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Video transcript

(very quiet music) Ann Temkin: I'm standing in front of a platform full of sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian-born artist who walked from Romania to Paris when he was a young artist. He made sculptures that explored the idea of abstraction. In the center is Mademoiselle Pogany. The bronze is dated 1913 and it's based on a marble and made from a plaster from 1912. It was actually a portrait of a friend of his, Margit Pogany, a young Hungarian woman. When the plaster was on view in 1913 in New York, it became one of the star pieces of the Armory Show, not in the sense of being most beloved, but being most ridiculed by the press and by the visitors. Together with Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, Mademoiselle Pogany was lampooned probably more than any other object there. What was the problem? It had a name. Brancusi was clearly telling the visitors that this was a portrait. This was not a head, it was an egg, is what they said. Brancusi delineated the hair not by any sculpted forms of curls. She was considered bald. The facial features by the slightest of descriptive lines or incisions were seen as nonsensical. We're at a point in history where Brancusi is beginning to abstract from a fairly naturalistic image into forms that were much more pure and simplified down to their really essential features. This was something that today, I think, 100 years later, we all look at and know that we're looking at a woman. At that time, it was almost incomprehensible that that would be how you could represent somebody's face. (very quiet music)