H. de Roos - The critique of the toronto exhibition



Five of the exhibited plasters are considered as damaged to various degrees by the curatorial team itself – a fact I only learned of two weeks before the symposium was to take place:

Of the fifty-four plasters in the exhibition, only five are impaired to any significant degree. 
The beauty of these works, and their importance in the depth and breadth of Rodin's career, has escaped Milroy’s momentary glance.

[From a letter from William Moore to Toronto Globe, 25 Sept. 2001,
copy sent to the author 23 Oct. 2001]

As I was told, there has been an internal dispute if they should be shown at all. In the end, it was decided they should be presented as documents of Rodin´s working process – a decision one may question (especially if we doubt Rodin ever lived to see these plasters) but obviously has not been taken without discussion and thought. 

Also the question of the conservation had been a subject of discussion in the staff team. 
As mentioned, at the Venice exhibition in 1999, about half of the plasters were covered with dust and dirt - the elements Rodin thought had "accentuated the depth" of his Thinker cast. Upon arrival in Canada, this dirt was removed. But again, not without discussion and thought, as evident from my email conversation with Mary Reid on the thin lacquer coating on some of the plasters that had irritated the Musée Rodin:

(..) many of plasters arrived to Canada in two separate shipments - one in February 2001 and then another shipment in late May 2001. This said, there was not enough time for the conservators to do extensive conservation [i.e. the complete removal of lacquer] in time for the exhibition which opened in September 2001. It was my decision to have all the pieces cleaned [removal of grime, dirt, dust, etc] and have any structurally sensitive repairs done as opposed to just concentrating on only a few pieces with a higher level of conservation. 

[From: Letter from Mary Reid to the author, 2 Nov. 2001]

Yes, initially there was the intent to return the plasters back to the pristine white surfaces in order to reflect what they looked like when they originated. However as I discussed it more with Colin Wiginton [the co-curator on the project] we decided to be "conservative" if you will, with the conservation. We became interested in the functional use and physical history of these works. It was through this dialogue that our thesis for the exhibition at the ROM was born. 

In William’s defence, he and David Schaff have implored me to do a more extensive cleaning of these works [i.e. removing the lacquer]. But removing lacquer is certainly much different than simply removing surface dirt and grime. Surface dirt and grime are built up over time passively.  Lacquer is applied with a certain intent, purpose and outcome and I want to know what these are - as I have explained to you in a previous email.

[From: Letter from Mary Reid to the author, 4 Nov. 2001]

At the Toronto symposium, Alexandra Parigoris quoted the example of a Picasso creation that had been gathering dust for years in an forgotten corner of his Paris atelier, before it was thoroughly cleaned for an exhibition – and looked strangely out of place afterwards. 

And since the amount of dirt and grime built up on the Maclaren plasters seems to have been a useful indication of their age (see Chapter 6), we might even question the decision to do any cleaning at all, before other experts did have the chance to examine this phenomenon with scientific methods.




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