Rodin: The Laboratory of Creation
Catalog of the exhibition by Catherine Chevillot, Hélène Marraud, and Hélène Pinet, translated from the French by John Adamson.
Paris: Musée Rodin/Faton, 64 pp., €9.50 (paper)
Catalog of the exhibition by Ann Temkin and Anne Umland
Museum of Modern Art, 320 pp., $85.00
About the origins of modern sculpture there is a general consensus. The story begins with Auguste Rodin, who died in 1917 at the age of seventy-seven. Rodin was a mythomaniac in the perfervid Romantic style of Victor Hugo and Richard Wagner. He was also a connoisseur of particularities and eccentricities, who sometimes preferred the fragment to the finished work. He struggled to imagine and on a couple of occasions succeeded in creating the monuments that nineteenth-century statesmen, industrialists, and intellectuals demanded for their official buildings and public squares. All the while, he could see that the Apollonian order embodied by those monuments was giving way to increasingly Dionysian forces, which he celebrated near the end of his life with a small study of Nijinsky, the mesmerizing dancer many embraced as the avatar of a new age.
Rodin, with his zigzagging enthusiasms, may have been the first sculptor to conceive of the monument in ways that unmade the monument. He set the stage for the twentieth-century sculptor’s conflicted allegiances to grandiosity and intimacy, as well as what many have come to see as modernism’s embrace of ambiguity. Although Rodin was capable of placing an expressive figure on an imposing base, as in his beguiling salute to the seventeenth-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain, often he aimed to destabilize the monument, suggesting with The Burghers of Calais that heroic figures might have no need for a pedestal and transforming the imposing, cloaked figure of Balzac into a mountainous talisman, a primordial plinth. In Rodin’s anti-monuments we see ambitions and equivocations that lead in ways direct and indirect to Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column, Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, the various versions of Pablo Picasso’s Monument to Apollinaire, Alberto Giacometti’s towering Women of Venice, Alexander Calder’s immense stabiles in Spoleto, Montreal, Mexico City, and Chicago, and Donald Judd’s one hundred mill aluminum boxes in Marfa, Texas.
The reopening in Paris of the Musée Rodin—all its subtleties and surprises only sharpened and freshened by a three-year renovation—is one of a series of events occurring almost simultaneously in cities on two continents that, if taken together, offer new opportunities to explore Rodin’s power and influence as they resonate through several generations. We are at a moment in the arts when historical reckonings, involving as they do considerations of precedent, genealogy, and chronology, can too easily be dismissed as reactionary gestures, canonical considerations to be tossed aside. There is all the more reason to press for a reconsideration…
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