The Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture is a division of the National Museum in Warsaw, located in Królikarnia, the rabbit house, where I prowled the outdoor sculptures a few posts ago. For the first time in Poland I encounter a serious ban on photography. It goes without saying that the museum and its contents are a feast for the forbidden camera. The circular room soars up into the dome, with wreaths and pilasters and eagles ringing it. The sculptures are superbly displayed: Dunikowskis paired with Rodins. I suspect Rodin is behind the no-photos rule.
The inability to photograph means my eyes and brain have to do the looking work, which is not a bad thing. I puzzle over the nature of sculpture and my preference for Rodin over Dunikowski, and I breathe in images in a way that makes them stick.
The exhibition is called Visions of women, and I’m greeted, under the dome, by three life size bronze figures, pregnant, inward looking and beautifully grouped, created by Dunikowski in 1906 and my favourites amongst his work. On the wall in the first gallery are thirteen plaster women’s heads, again about life sized, with blank eyes and looming necks, a history of headgear rather than images of women. I begin to realize that my problem with Dunikowski is the featureless eyes, pupil free and staring. Rodin’s eyes, despite their lack of detail, don’t have this ocular blankness. Dunikowski’s cement Eve is merely coy, Rodin’s bronze a complex and paradoxical representation of power and shame. Or is my view being shaped by fame and prior knowledge?
I like the manageability of this exhibition: five rooms, each with a different theme, and only a few pieces in each room. I like the variety of materials – marble, plaster, terracotta, cement, gilded and polychromed wood, bronze, even paint and paper. I like the pairings, beautifully captured in the publicity image – Rodin’s terracotta girl with the flowery hat becoming Dunikowski’s terracotta portrait of a cousin. In the end, I even appreciate the photo-ban.