Joseph Brodsky monument: It’s the thought that counts.


There'll be bird poop on his face within a week.

I don’t care for the likeness, but I do rather like the chutzpah of the sculptor, Georgy Frangulyan.  His proposed statue of Joseph Brodsky lost a contest in the Nobel poet’s native St. Petersburg, and earlier was the subject of frenzied internet opposition.  So he up and decided to put the statue up on his own dime (or ruble) … in Moscow.

“It is my own personal monument,” said Frangulyan. “I didn’t have a choice, as there was a crisis and all those who had promised money withdrew.”

Late for the train, John?

Frangulyan wouldn’t say exactly how much it cost, but priced it at a few million dollars.  Since the sculptor is fronting the money for the project out of his own pocket, without anyone buying the statue, I don’t know how he would assess its value.  Materials?  I doubt he had that kind of money to invest.  Labor?  He puts a high price on himself.  Usually, the value of artwork is determined by someone making a bid.  But if these are the new rules, this post is worth $50K, and I expect you all to start chucking money at me.

As for the locale, Moscow worthies decided to put it across from the U.S. Embassy:  “We looked for a place for a long time,” said Alexander Kuzmin, Moscow chief architect, in 2007. “We looked to see where the relatives of the poet lived. Then we asked ourselves a question: What most of all links Brodsky and Moscow? And we understood – the American embassy, from there he left the U.S.S.R.”

The Russia Beyond the Headlines article, here (with a hat tip to Dave Lull) is a masterpiece for what is left unsaid. The article states that “Brodsky actually left for Vienna, initially…”  Well, no, the government had a policy of shipping its unwanted Jews to Israel.  Vienna was merely the stopover where he bailed, with Russian scholar and friend Carl Proffer, and headed for the U.S. instead.  The article notes that he never visited his parents again after his exile.  Well, no, he didn’t.  Even though he petitioned repeatedly, with increasing desperation, to get them a visa.  He even wrote about it, bitterly.

Nearby are sculpted silhouettes of twelve people in two groups, but Brodsky is obeying a shopworn convention of the otherworldly poet, staring into the sky, abstracted, not watching to see if he is stepping into pigeon crap.

According to the article:

Frangulyan said it shows how a poet is alone but with a circle of followers. “Some people go through life like a shadow and some become individuals,” he said.

Well, okay.  Whatever.  But the look on his face is, well, a little disdainful.  Like he’s looking down his honker at everyone.

David Sanders suggested that he was on the lookout for overhead pigeons.  The first well-targeted pigeon bombing should dispel that one.  It’s likely to land on his prominent nose.  He won’t see coming: his eyes are closed, if you look closely at the face.

I have another explanation:  He’s finally back in the new Russia – but he is stubbornly refusing to look at it.

For purposes of comparison, here’s a statue of John Betjemin in the square where I lived briefly some years ago.  He also, is looking up – but looks rather confused, and lost in the St. Pancras/Kings Cross Station, and maybe late for a train.

Postcript on 7/10:  David Sanders, in his emailed Poetry News in Review, had this more sagacious comment, which humbled me mid-snark: “Maybe it’s time for a renaissance in publicly memorializing poets and writers through the strategic placement of their likenesses, if only in hopes that it will prolong the life of their words, raise their public profiles (so to speak), and give them equally footing with our other heroes. For some of us, these men and women are our heroes.”

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2 Responses to “Joseph Brodsky monument: It’s the thought that counts.”

  1. Sarang Says:

    I like the (inadvertent?) portmanteau-ing of Betjeman and Benjamin! Not two figures I’d have thought of together. And for my money, JB looks like he’s trying to let the rainwater and/or pigeon droppings trickle down his face.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Typo! Thanks for the correx!