Tate Modern reunites Rodin plasters for insightful exhibit

Auguste Rodin, ‘Right hand of Pierre and Jacques de Wissant,’ 1885–86, Musee Rodin, S.00332

Auguste Rodin, ‘Right hand of Pierre and Jacques de Wissant,’ 1885–86, Musee Rodin, S.00332

LONDON – From May 17 to November 21, Tate Modern presents a major new exhibition of Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917). It shows how he broke the rules of classical sculpture to create a dramatically different image of the human body, mirroring the ruptures, complexities and uncertainties of the modern age. Featuring more than 200 works, many of which have never been shown outside France, The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin offers a unique insight into Rodin’s ways of thinking and making.

Thanks to a unique collaboration with the Musee Rodin, which has offered the Tate unprecedented access to its collection, visitors are able to both appreciate the originality of iconic works such as the Thinker, from 1881, and The Three Shades, from 1886, as well as make fresh discoveries that reveal how the artist transformed modern sculpture.

Although Rodin is best known for his bronze and marble sculptures, he personally only worked as a modeler, capturing movement, emotion, light, and volume in pliable materials such as clay which were then cast in plaster. The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin is the first show to focus in depth on Rodin’s use of plaster, taking inspiration from the artist’s landmark self-organized exhibition at the Pavillon de l’Alma in 1900. It was here that Rodin made the unconventional decision to display his life’s work almost entirely in plaster, emphasizing the crucial role the medium played in his career. Many of the star exhibits of 1900 such as the monumental casts of Balzac, from 1898, and The Inner Voice, from 1896, are shown at Tate Modern in a rare reunion.

The exhibition also evokes the atmosphere of the Pavillon de l’Alma, which in turn had riffed on an imaginary vision of the artist’s studio. Rather than show a workshop populated by models, carvers, casters, photographers, and founders who turned Rodin’s creations and vision into traditional commercial sculptures, it foregrounded modeling and the notion of the artist’s hand as the central drivers for Rodin’s work. A stockpile of plaster body parts on loan from the Musee Rodin reveals how he continually experimented with fragmentation, repetition, and joining existing parts in unconventional ways. Individually crafted heads, hands, arms, legs, and feet allowed him to dismantle and reassemble his works time and time again in countless combinations and poses. The exhibition explores how these experiments went on to influence some of the artist’s best-known sculptures, including the newly restored plaster for the 1889 work The Burghers of Calais, displayed as Rodin had originally intended.

The complex dynamics of Rodin’s work with different models are considered from the perspective of some of the extraordinary women with whom he worked, including his onetime studio assistant and collaborator Camille Claudel. Rather than conceive an ideal, Rodin strongly responded to the individual character and physicality of his models. This is especially evident in his numerous portraits of the actress Ohta Hisa, who, under her stage name Hanako, performed Westernized adaptations of Kabuki theatre to French audiences enthralled by all things Japanese. Busts depicting Rodin’s friend and correspondent, the German aristocrat Helene Von Nostitz nee Hindenburg, also illustrate how he embraced visible traces of his work’s creation, believing the process to be as significant as the finished form.

Archival images, many of which Rodin chose to display alongside his plaster works at the Pavillon de l’Alma, show how he used photography to explore combinations of forms and analyse his sculptures from multiple viewpoints. These are joined by a series of the artist’s delicate watercolor drawings in which he further experimented and reworked bodily forms.

The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin is curated by Nabila Abdel Nabi, Curator, International Art, Tate Modern; Chloe Ariot, Curator for Sculpture, Musee Rodin, Paris; and Achim Borchardt-Hume, Director of Exhibitions and Programmes, Tate Modern, with Helen O’Malley, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern and Musee Rodin, Paris. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog.

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