Rodin and the art of ancient Greece
The British Museum
Watching a rehearsal of a play or ballet can often be more interesting than the performance itself. Artistic practice and process is intriguing. For this reason the decision to curate an exhibition showing the interconnections between Rodin’s works and the art of ancient Greece is particularly satisfying. Not that we are watching Rodin at work, rather the juxtaposition of what he saw and how these works inspired him, makes the interplay between his reactions and his actions, a means of understanding his imaginative journey. The impulses behind particular Greek and Roman sources, and the effect of these on a modern French artist, is thrilling.
It is surprising that Rodin never visited Greece and that his addiction to Greek architecture was partly satisfied by what he saw in the British Museum. Here Rodin rediscovered classical art and was provoked to make new works seeded by these antiquity. By seeing both the source and the effect, the viewer has a profound understanding of how one artist influences another across the divide between Classicism and Modernism.
What is astounding here is the gigantism of so much of Rodin’s art. Rodin was obsessed with the Parthenon and the Elgin Marbles. The Marbles’ displacement to London has caused fury in Greece and this exhibition might be seen as a justification of that relocation. However Rodin and the art of ancient Greece is so much more than any political swipe.
There is a huge hand clenched. There are flying figures. There is the eroticism of The Kiss. There is the political outrage in the figures of The Burghers of Calais. Everywhere there is movement, plasticity of bodies, a feeling for warm flesh through the cold materials of marble and bronze. There is a hedonism that is rooted in Greek art which bursts in to the modern space. This is an extraordinary exhibition that is full of daring, light, wit and imagination. It breathes and pulsates and it is hard to forget.
Julia Pascal © 2018.