Frist Center of the Arts, Nashville, TN
Sept 12, 2008 - Jan 4, 2009
I personally love the title of this exhibition and have admired the French 19th C. sculptor, Francois-Auguste Rodin, an artist who was often rejected by the standards of Neoclassisim of his times. Most of us are aware of the familier Rodin bronze called "The Thinker". This rendition of man heavy in thought and strong in stature has been reproduced innumerable times all over the world. Having visited Musee Rodin and former studio in Paris twice, I reccommend this stop for any visiter to Paris looking for a memorable art experience. Camille Claudel, one of his most famous students, now has her own room and her influence on Rodin was equally important to his work. It would not be for us to know if her sensual, feminine influence of expression came from their personal love affair or their professional ties that formed brilliant sculpture forever to be revered by the world. Theirs was a tumultuous love affair and her life a tale of great sorrow and intrigue in her times. But let's return to the show at hand and the professional brilliance of the master sculptor, Rodin.
Upon entering the Frist exhibition, the collection of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, with great anticipation, I was greeted by a woman who was leaving and shaking her head. She looked at me and said, "This was not a happy man!". Curious of her discouraging sentiments, I soon discovered why she was overwhelmed by the emotions of the show and was surprised in this artist's choice of expression. This was not your casual, let's go to the museum to see pretty work, although, let me be clear, there was beautiful work to behold. A good part of Rodin's magnificent obsession was his tremendous energy or calling to depict the burdened, thoughtful, reflective soul.
My attention for this show goes to the Three Shades, a free standing sculpture lifted from his idea for the Gates of Hell. This project was created for a future museum that never grew to fruition. The rendition of the male figure is created times three with the man's head bent heavily forward, an arm and fist thrust downward, and both extremities connect each version of the same pose exposing different view points. As strong as this man was as seen in his incredible muscles and body, his head was too heavy and bent in unimaginable despair. The original sculpture was placed at the top of the door for the never constructed museum, another frustration that played out for Rodin's career. How disappointing for an artist! Yet, what important work came out of this proposed project. Rodin's knowledge of the human figure is intimate and proficient as seen in this emotional depiction of a tortured man in Hell. It is in his ability for shorthand, pushing his figures to extreme postures and describing great emotions that was his genius. History transcribes that Rodin hired many nude models in his studio and had them always moving about until he would stop them in a pose he liked. That was a brilliant recipe for an artist lacking the inhibitions of mainstream society that could prohibit such a searching of new material and ideas. While this collection of the Cantor Foundation shows many agonizing figures, and brilliant portraits, I missed the sensual and erotic figures found in his large oeuvre at the Rodin Museum in Paris. Examples to see of his other side would be those as "The Kiss" and "The Eternal Idol" both connected to Ms. Claudel.
When Rodin took great pains to describe his personal version and characteristics of a celebrity, he was often not appreciated by the client and public. Yet, it is this place of universal art - subjects of timeless inquiry and even themes concerning man or woman's search for his or her own meaning in life that remain with us. Whether one personally likes Rodin or not, his works are the stuff of true substance and big ideas coupled with his unconscious or conscious interests depicted in his sculpture. He had the enormous ability to render the figure, portrait or figures in new ways to express his passion and show beauty even in unexplored areas of human existence.
You see the Rodin who sculpted the famous writer, Balzac, in several different ways and hugely disliked for its almost cartoonish and crude description of the writer. This was the same Rodin who could sculpt only the hands of a young female pianist with the precise anatomical truth and poetic sensitivity needed to describe the sublime idea of music that could only be birthed from hands as these. This magnificent artist was sensitive, observant, explorative, and true to his vision - establishing new avenues of revealing the truths of our spiritual lives on earth. I believe that knowing the rules of anatomy and yet knowing how to break the rules with integrity is the true meaning and value of artistic license.
True, this is not a show for the faint of heart or even those who may cling to the old chauvinistic rules of society (that he was!). With this collection and artist, you are invited and then required to participate in the ultimate discovery of his brilliant creations of man, woman, and a dance that takes place in his exquisite visions of the sublime. WIth the passing of time, we are allowed the freshness of space to experience this monumental artist and discover for ourselves his legacy of work and contribution to great Art not only to France but of the world today.
"Magnificent Obsession" continues Jan.24 at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, La.