Two stars of sculpture
British sculptor Antony Gormley (born in 1950) is a star of contemporary sculpture. His repertoire is limited, like Rodin’s, to using human silhouettes as his subjects. But that’s the only thing he and the creator of the “Thinker” have in common. And yet he is the guest at the eponymous museum as part of a mega-exhibition in which he establishes a counterpoint to the French master’s three-dimensional offerings. Through his spirit, the exhibition is frankly far removed from the remarkable Gormley retrospective at the Royal Academy from 2019, which seemed to particularly highlight the theme of drawing in space.
The temple of musée Rodin
Antony tells me from his London studio near King’s Cross: “The Musée Rodin is a temple in honour of a great mind, a creator of bodies. Chronologically, however, he is at the end of a long line of statue makers. My offering is different. I’m not interested in representation. I want the viewer’s own body to be involved in what they see.” There’s no escaping the expressive power of the large-scale Gormley installation in the chapel of the Musée Rodin, which spills out into the gardens. Named “Critical Mass”, it is made up of a variation of twelve archetypal body positions, resembling massive shop window mannequins made of metal where you can still see the traces of manufacturing.
We have to resist
The layout is striking. “I like that the first work you see on arrival is this piece with the body bent over, the head hitting the wall . It’s an icon for our times. This is the world we live in, an encapsulation of the human condition. It’s not a political statement. But we have to resist it.” The ensemble resembles the human figures immobilized for eternity at Pompeii, their personal characteristics erased by the ash and the ravages of time.
Catalogue of suffering
These silhouettes suspended in space are a catalogue of the forms of suffering we can inflict on human beings. There are more also displayed outside. We follow them. He’s lined them up, as though leading to Rodin’s “Porte de l’enfer” (“Gates of Hell”). The monumental work by the French artist was conceived by him as a compilation of his creations. Above it, at the top of the wall overlooking the artwork, the mischievous Gormley has positioned a lookout, one of his arachnoid figures which occasionally shakes in the wind, contrasting against the mass of the doorway.
I rejected Rodin
At the Hôtel Biron, the large town house that serves as a setting for the permanent collection, Gormley develops the diversity of his repertoire. He shapes his silhouettes with the aid of accumulations of massive polyhedrons, hollowed-out cubes, metal cables… The twist: at the end of the interview the British sculptor admits that he changed his mind on contact with Rodin: “When I was young I was fascinated by the American sculpture of people like Carl Andre and Bruce Nauman. Back then I rejected Rodin.
Teachings of Rodin
But in recent years I’ve been struck by the way he used his work as raw material and it’s had a profound effect on me. For some time, two or three years, I have been working on collating my sculptures, taking two of them and trying to fit them together. I’m working on assembling in such a way that two sculptures can work together. Up to there I’ve been creating single bodies, where the interactions only took place at a distance. My new pieces are the result of the teachings of Rodin.”
Still works in progress, they aren’t yet on display in Paris. Unfortunately. We shall see them in May 2024 in New York at the White Cube gallery.
Meanwhile in London the White Cube gallery is also showing Antony Gormley until 28 January.
Until 3 March. www.musee-rodin.fr/musee/expositions/antony-gormley
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