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Marta Pan 1923-2008

The Hungarian-born French artist Marta Pan died on October 12 2008.
In 1959 she came to the Kröller-Müller Museum with her husband, André Wogenscky, an architect and Le Corbusier’s right-hand man, to attend the final CIAM conference. On this occasion she met the museum’s then director, Bram Hammacher, whose ambitious plans to establish a sculpture garden at the museum were well advanced. This meeting led to the young artist’s first large commission and a longstanding friendship with the museum. The Sculpture flottante, Otterlo (1960-61) has become a symbol of the museum and gave Marta’s career an enormous boost.
She preferred to place her work (which was always based on organic forms – shells in the case of the Sculpture flottante – but which became more geometric over the years) in an environment that would lead to human interaction. Until a month before her death she was busy with new projects, mostly for urban environments. Marta Pan remained in close contact with the museum over the years. We saw each other frequently in recent years and maintained an intense email correspondence, initially in relation to the preparations for restoring the Sculpture flottante. We greatly enjoyed the discussions about how to solve the problems this faced us with (I could devote a separate column to that subject). She donated drawings and documents to the museum and asked me, very discretely, to consider the donation of a large work for the sculpture garden. She was very excited about the idea of one of her first major works sharing the garden with one of her last monumental works. We enthusiastically discussed various proposals and eventually agreed upon the magnificent granite work Amphithéâtre, which was inaugurated at the beginning of 2007 with a dance performance in the artist’s presence. This work brought together all her preoccupations: organic form, ingenious geometric beauty, an exciting relationship with the landscape, an immaterial presence due to the use of light and colour, refined detailing, a theatrical character and, above all, a social meeting place. We are extremely grateful to her for this generous gift, which has been warmly embraced by our visitors.
Last summer Marta Pan was due to have a special exhibition of her work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, the city in which she was born. She was very excited about the exhibition and we agreed that I would conduct a public interview with her during the opening. Unfortunately the museum had to cancel the exhibition because of lack of finances: an enormous disappointment. Conversations with her were always captivating; her statements about her own development were so well considered and she had a great sense of humour. The cautious side of her personality came over very well in the short documentary that the AVRO made about Amphithéâtre in the series Nieuw in Nederland. She has now become part of history. A foundation will take charge of her beautiful house outside Paris and her work. We will treasure the memory of this extraordinary artist. Sadly, we have lost a friend.

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