I first saw Rodin’s sculptures as a student when I travelled to Paris for the first time. Country mouse that I was, I was a bit intimidated by the city, by the famous museums, and rather than wander around the the Louvre or the d’Orsay stunned, I went instead to Pompidou (at least there I had some context) and the Rodin museum (because it was small). The Rodin felt like an introduction to what looking at art might be and I remember it as an essential moment in my education. Since then, I’ve seen other Rodin exhibits and have visited museums with large collections of pieces. Each time I do, I always remember (and feel a bit of nostalgia for) that summer in Paris.
So obviously when a large batch of Rodin sculptures came to Montreal as Métamorphoses. Dans le secret de l’atelier de Rodiny, I went to see them. And it proved to be a pretty impressive show. The emphasis was on the ways the artist fragmented forms and gestures in order to be able to use them in multiple works. At times, the curators arranged objects to highlight details, at others to present a project or process. It was all nicely done and I liked it a lot.
That said the crowds were madness. In room after room, I felt like art risked becoming blood sport.
Having survived the arena and now looking back, two works stood out. The first of these, The Age of Bronze, is a favorite of mine. There are copies at the National Gallery in Washington and in the National Gallery in Ottawa. Which means, thankfully, I get to see it more or less whenever I want.
What I like about it is the way it evokes Greek statuary with its graceful celebration of physical beauty but does so with a posture that is erotic enough to feel confrontational. It’s a work I look at and then realize after a few moments that I’m holding my breath. The second thing I like about it is that no matter how crowded the gallery, no one stops to stand in front of it. There is side-eye galore but people mostly rush by looking at the wall as if afraid to be caught staring. It’s great.
The second work that stands out was a sculpture set in front of a contemporary, photographic series that documents its unpacking after being shipped. One of these photographs hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, but seeing it alone is not the same as seeing the full sequence juxtaposed with the statue itself. Together, they suggest the unexpected delicacy and mobility of the bronze.