On Friday, September 1, the Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center unveiled, “Rodin: The Human Experience,” featuring 32 of renowned French artist Auguste Rodin’s bronze figures, selected from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections. The exhibit, on display now through January 7, 2018, is held in correlation with museums around the world in honor of the 100 anniversary of the artist’s death, which occurred in November of 1917.
Courtney McNeil, Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Telfair Museums, said this year seemed like the perfect time for Telfair to showcase the sculpture of Rodin.
“In 1992, we exhibited work by Rodin at the Telfair Academy, and we felt that after waiting 25 years Savannah deserved another chance to view the work of this iconic sculptor,” McNeil said.
McNeil explained the exhibition’s title, “The Human Experience,” is not directly tied to the centennial of Rodin’s death. The exhibition was actually titled by its organizer, the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. According to McNeil, Rodin felt that the role of an artist was not to attempt to reproduce what was found in nature but to celebrate the artist’s human hand and creative inspiration. For McNeil, the exhibition’s title contains multiple meanings.
“First, the show consists entirely of Rodin’s bronzes of the human figure, so the human body is the subject of the show,” McNeil said. “Second, Rodin rebelled against the prevailing academic traditions that governed sculpture in the late 19th century. Rather than creating highly realistic works of sculpture that portrayed the human body literally, Rodin chose to deliberately exaggerate the proportions of his figures, depict them in poses that would be impossible to hold in real life, and leave exposed the seams that called attention to the fact that his works were not items found in the natural world, but rather works of art shaped by the human hand.”
Rodin’s work and long career in sculpture has been taught in many an art history course, which, as McNeil said, is how many patrons familiarize themselves with the artist and his style.
In addition to Rodin’s claim to fame as the first truly modern sculptor and his reputation as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo, McNeil said the exhibition offers several other narratives that are also incredibly compelling.
“First, the lost-wax casting process through which these bronzes are created is highly technical and very complicated, and we offer a good amount of gallery interpretation addressing this subject, including a video showing the casting process,” McNeil said. “Second, the exhibition highlights how Rodin reused figures and parts of figures to create new works, and how he enlarged and reduced works in order to suit the needs and budgets of his collectors. Third, the exhibition addresses the fact that Rodin left his estate, including the right to continue to create casts from his original plasters, to his home country of France so they could create a museum in his honor. He was deeply committed to ensuring his artistic legacy.”
For McNeil, the most exciting part of opening the exhibition is the opportunity to share the powerful experience of seeing Rodin’s works in person and to take in their texture and scale in ways that can not be reproduced in a book or an online image.
“I have to call out the excellent work of our installation team, because not only is it physically demanding to install these sculptures – some of them weigh up to 700 pounds – but it is incredibly challenging to light Rodin’s sculptures effectively,” McNeil said. “Our preparators really rose to this challenge, and I couldn’t be happier with the final result.”
To take in the full effect of the bronze figures, McNeil said Rodin’s work is best experienced in person and well worth the visit to the Jepson Center.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that people came up to me in tears at the members’ opening reception, saying that it was such a powerful and moving experience,” McNeil said.
More information on “Rodin: The Human Experience” can be found on the Telfair Museums website.