H. de Roos - The critique of the toronto exhibition



Il s'agit là de plâtres de fonderie usés, enduits d'agents de démoulage qui les amollissent encore plus.
(….) et qu'à partir de plâtres usés, on ne peut obtenir que des bronzes de piètre qualité.

[From the Musée Rodin press release]


This is a point also echoed by the press, and so we find these plasters variously called "abraded", "lacking detail", "worn off", "blunted", "used", "ruined", "spoiled", "discolored", "scratched", "dinged", "softened", "disfigured", "swollen", even "monstrous":

In plaster cast after plaster cast, the forms are blunted and abraded, sometimes as if dipped in a coating which has congealed over their surfaces, leaving the shapes generalized -- which indeed may be the case, depending on what, precisely, the casts were made for. Some of them are scratched and dinged or badly softened. In many instances, they are coated with sepia or caramel-coloured amber staining, presumably the residue of the casting process. Like elegant courtesans surprised in their shopworn housecoats, a number of them have a morning-after feel, striking the viewer as awkwardly déshabillé. Nothing is learned by looking at these plasters about the nature of Rodin's gift; in fact, his gift has arguably been obscured. All one can see is the purported physical evidence of standard 19th-century foundry casting techniques, hardly the stuff that epiphanies are made of. (...)

From: Rodin – Truly A Bust, by Sarah Milroy, Toronto Globe, 22 Sept. 2001

With every other artist and every other exhibition goal, this kind of critique would kill the show. Imagine an exhibition with a damaged Barnett Newman, Picasso, Malevich or Rembrandt painting (works of these four artists were wilfully damaged in Amsterdam since 1986). In the case of the R.O.M. exhibition, the problem is a bit more complex again.

First of all, the MacLaren and R.O.M. have explicitly announced an exhibition educating the public on the casting process. Already the title "From Plaster to Bronze" indicates clearly enough that foundry plasters must make up the bulk of the show. If the exhibition concept is to have any validity at all, of course, these plaster must be used items, showing visible traces of the casting process - like the medium sized Thinker plaster displayed in the first room, stained with orange rust resin. To complain about such traces means to question the whole exhibition concept, that claims to "go behind the scenes":


Foundry plasters are the last artifacts in the process of making bronzes and often show evidence of their role in this muscular, earthy process in interesting ways. You can like them or hate them for that.

The exhibition also includes studio plasters, bronzes authorized by the Musée Rodin, and bronzes cast from these foundry plasters in 2000 for educational purposes.

The exhibition explains how sculpture moves from clay to plaster to bronze using these examples, and places Rodin in the context of Western art.

Going behind the scenes like this, and employing artifacts usually consigned to the warehouse, can threaten the status quo, offend academic taste and lead to simple confusion. Obviously.

[From: Letter from William Thorsell, Director R.O.M., to Toronto Globe, 12 Nov. 2001]

Thinker, plaster, medium size, MacLaren collection.
Photo: Mario Carrieri for GME. Click image to enlarge.

Only to a person for whom the methods Rodin and his craftsmen employed have neither secrets nor appeal any more and who even possesses that magical gift to look into the unhappy souls of these objects and sense the softening of the plasters without opening the plexiglass cases, this exhibition has nothing new to tell. A question that should concern critics more is, if this "purported physical evidence of standard 19th-century foundry casting techniques" (Milroy) really is historical material from this period, or that these plasters - as Romain and Arseneau claim - were produced in the middle of the 20th century instead. I refer to the preceding chapter and Chapter 6.




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