By: James Johnson
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a sculpture should be worth at least a half million. Just think how many pictures can be taken of one sculpture. On February 11th through May 7th, Methodist University will play host to not one, but 20 of them, by world renowned French artist, Auguste Rodin.
The exhibit, titled “Rodin: Portraits of a Lifetime and Selections from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collections,” will be displayed at the school’s David McCune International Art Gallery building, which first opened at the University back in 2010 and has since given the community and the school’s students, firsthand experience with countless acclaimed artists. Still, even for a gallery that has seen the likes of Pablo Picasso, Silvana Foti, the gallery’s executive director, remains in a state of disbelief at the University’s luck.
“This is just really exciting. It is exciting that we are a gallery that you wouldn’t think would be able to get a show like this,” Foti said. “This type of exhibit would usually be in a museum with a huge staff, with people trained to handle the art in a certain way. We have a small staff here and recognize that this is a rare opportunity.”
In fact, the exhibit, made possible by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, is allowing the University to display the exhibit. It is the same foundation that gifted 29 Rodin sculptures to the North Carolina Museum of Art in 2009.
Rodin is considered one of the greatest artists of all time and is often referred to as the progenitor of modern sculpture.
The artist was born in 1840 to a working class family in Paris, France. He would later study art at Petite École. In 1877, Rodin caught the art world’s attention with his sculpture “The Age of Bronze,” which depicted a life-sized nude male body so realistic that it had generated controversy, as many believed the sculpture would have been impossible to create without casting a living model. The controversy only helped Rodin’s work receive more attention, as art lovers flocked to see the sculpture for themselves.
Throughout his life Rodin created countless works of art, demonstrating an almost obsessive attention to detail and understanding of the human anatomy. Among Rodin’s most famous pieces are “The Walking Man,” “The Burghers of Calais,” “The Gates of Hell” and perhaps his most well known sculpture, “The Thinker.” Though Rodin knew his way around a paint brush, he was most known for working with clay and bronze.
“Just the fact that he was able to work with a material that was difficult to work with, his ability to capture life. He captured things that look living,” said Foti. “That was the magnificent part. When you think of contemporary sculptures, the way he captured the life of his forms and his figures, that was a true inspiration.”
Foti believes Rodin’s influence is still evident today. She expects the exhibit to attract not only a lot of local interest, but interest from across the state.
“We are presently working on getting the word out,” Foti said. “We have been working on getting invitations designed, billboards designed, cards, all of those kinds of things that go out into the public locally and outside our area. About 3,000 invitations will go out.”
The opening night of the exhibit will feature a performance by violinist Emi Hildebrandt, as well as catered food. Attendees will also get to hear Judith Sobol, executive director for the Cantor Foundation, speak.
Founded in 1978 by Iris Cantor and her husband B. Gerald Cantor, the foundation’s mission is to offer cultural philanthropy and help fund medical research and health care. According to the their website, the purpose of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation is “to support the body and the soul.”
“The foundation's collection of Rodin art, combined with the private collection of the foundation’s founders, was at one time the largest collection in the world,” said Sobol. “They have made gifts to museums all over the world, besides providing traveling exhibitions.”
This particular exhibition focuses on Rodin’s portrait work, which had contributed to much of his early popularity. Sobol believes his portraits were unique in that they always left the viewer with a sense of mystery.
“I think Rodin made very sure that his sculpture did not tell a story from beginning to end,” Sobol said. “It left the personality up to the viewer and therefore the works are infinitely examinable. Every time we look at one of his works we learn more about it and more about ourselves.”
Since his death in 1917, much of Rodin’s work has been photographed and can easily be seen by anyone with access to a computer with a good Internet connection, however Sobol feels strongly that Rodin’s work can only truly be appreciated up close and personal.
“I think seeing a Rodin in person allows a modern art lover to experience the artist's point of view. The testiness, the weight of a brilliant artist's point of view and their own reaction to it,” Sobol said. “It is very much modern work because it relies on a spectator to give it full meaning. You have to be there.”
The gallery opening will take place from 6:00 p.m. to 9 p.m. on February 11th, and will remain open to the public through May 7th, during normal business hours of 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Friday and 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. Groups hoping to view the gallery are encouraged to make an appointment by calling 910.425.5379.