In 1907, the 31-year-old sculptor Constantin Brancusi quit his apprenticeship with Auguste Rodin after just two months, declaring that “nothing grows under big trees”. Nonetheless, just three years later, Brancusi began one of his most celebrated works, The Kiss (1907-08), a modernist reinterpretation of Rodin’s 1889 marble sculpture of the same name.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Rodin’s death, and a host of international museum exhibitions demonstrate just how many artists (whether they know it or not) have grown from beneath his shadow, such as Urs Fischer, Sarah Lucas, Xu Zhen and Anselm Kiefer.
There is renewed enthusiasm in Rodin’s market, too. A previously unknown marble sculpture, Andromède (1887), sold for €3.7m ($4.1m)—more than three times its €1m high estimate in May at Artcurial in Paris. Meanwhile, the artist’s auction record was broken twice last year: first when Sotheby’s London sold ris, messagère des dieux (1890-91) for £11.6m (est. £6m-£8m) in February, and then again in May, when L’éternel printemps (1901-03) sold for $20.4m (est. $8m-$12m) at Sotheby’s New York.
Whether advancing his tradition or rebelling against the old maȋtre, here are some of the highlights from this year’s centennial celebrations and how they interact with the market.
“Kiefer Rodin,” Musée Rodin, Through October 22, 2017; The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, November 17, 2017–March 12, 2018
The Musée Rodin in Paris—whose two sites are the artist’s former home and studio—remains the premier destination for any Rodin admirer. The institution not only houses the largest collection of the artist’s works in the world, it is also the sole agent authorized to carry out posthumous casting. (The French government allows casts of 12 versions in each size of a work.)
Rodin in his lifetime, however, produced a prolific amount of work. This productivity is one reason why so many museums today are able to hold simultaneous centennial shows, whether with copies or “originals”. But it has also led to troubles in his market, which is saddled with an abundance of fakes and unauthorized casts.
Casts made during his lifetime sell for three times as much as those created in what experts consider the posthumous middle (1917-1952) and late periods of Rodin production, yet there were 316 bronze versions of The Kiss alone made in the last two decades of the artist’s life.
The Musée Rodin is staging a must-see Rodin centennial event, inviting the German artist Anselm Kiefer to exhibit works that respond to its collection. Kiefer has long been familiar with Rodin’s work through Germanic influences, including the writings of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the drawings of Joseph Beuys. But it wasn’t until the museum invited him a few years ago to illustrate a new edition of Rodin’s 1914 manifesto in defense of Gothic architecture, Les Cathèdrales de France, that he began to see striking similarities to his own work.
A fascination with history and a passionate respect for architecture are two things they have in common, says Sylvie Patry, Consulting Curator at the Barnes Foundation, where the show will travel in the fall. “But the most spectacular meeting point between the two artists is the emphasis on the making process in their final or public works.” Both Kiefer and Rodin have incorporated random transformations and chance as inspirational principles in their artwork. As a result, the acts involved in the making of their art are frequently left visible in the final works—pieces often bear the marks of previous accidents and manipulations, such as handwritten inscriptions, pentimenti, or internal armatures.”
Alongside Rodin’s work, large-scale books with Kiefer’s illustrations will be on view, as well as his paintings and vitrines containing historical artifacts such as desiccated plants, scraps of fabric and stones.
“Versus Rodin,” Art Gallery of South Australia
Conflict was at the heart of Rodin’s practice and remains palpable in many of the straining, striving bodies he sculpted. The Art Gallery of South Australia’s Curator of Contemporary Art Leigh Robb took this tension as the starting point for an exhibition of Rodin’s drawings and sculptures—the museum has the largest collection of his bronzes in the southern hemisphere—paired with more than 100 works by modern and contemporary artists.
“Many of his figures seem to be in the throes of a physical, emotional, spiritual or political struggle,” Robb says. “The dynamism inherent in Rodin’s work drove the idea of creating a combative platform, harnessing the rivalry as well as the respect that exists between artists and art forms.”
The artist himself embraced the fusion of dualities in many works, including the entwined marble lovers of L’éternel printemps by combining two previously separate figures into a conjoined couple kissing.
The exhibition included a steel block figure of a crouching man Clutch (2007) by Antony Gormley, who once called Rodin “the first Modernist”, paired with Rodin’s iconic headless bronze, L’homme qui marche (1877-78). Elsewhere, Xu Zhen’s concrete replicas of Greek statuary and Buddhist figures, Eternity (2013-14) were shown alongside Rodin’s Pierre de Wissant, nu monumental (1886), one of the six burghers of Calais—both artists “who have embraced fragments of classical antiquity to touch on metaphysical concerns”, Robb says.
(From 4 March 2017-16 July 2017. Exhibition catalogue available)
San Francisco Legion of Honor, Multiple Shows
The California businessman Adolph Spreckels and his wife, Alma, were among Rodin’s most enthusiastic collectors in America, purchasing a number of works from the artist directly and later donating almost 100 to the San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum.
Earlier this year the museum staged an exhibition of of 50 of Rodin’s works—“Auguste Rodin: The Centenary Installation”, and contemporary artists Urs Fischer and Sarah Lucas were invited to show works that respond to his sculptures—“Urs Fischer: The Public and the Private”, which ended in July, which ended in July, and “Sarah Lucas: Good Muse”, until 24 September. In October a show will compare the sculptor’s work with that of the painter Gustav Klimt, who died the year after Rodin—“Klimt and Rodin: An Artistic Encounter”, until 28 January.
“Rodin’s conception of the body as expressive of his subjects’ psychic condition, and his embrace of the fragment as a motif in its own right, deeply influenced the trajectory of modern sculpture,” says Claudia Schmuckli, Curator-in-Charge, Contemporary Art and Programming, at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Those influences could be spotted in Fischer’s melting wax sculpture Adam (2014-17), which was displayed next to Rodin’s unfinished masterpiece, The Gates of Hell (1880-1917), by considering the artists’ shared “ideas of transience and mortality”, she says.
Lucas takes a more critical view of Rodin, with an exhibition of sculpture that “challenges the idealizing gaze of Rodin’s eroticism”, Schmuckli says. Rodin’s sexual works are his most coveted on the market. One of his most explicit, the bronze Iris, messagère des dieux (1890-91), depicts a pair of female legs—without a head—splayed open to reveal her genitalia.
Lucas, who, like Rodin, often works with sexually-charged fragments, has written that the title of her exhibition was inspired by Rodin’s carnal relationship to his models: “A muse isn’t necessarily a particular person, the model. It can also be an outlook on life (musing). Art and life are not separate. In Rodin’s case that meant the model or models coming to sit for him and —he was the boss, the big ego. I’m a bit more egalitarian.”
The final exhibition in the series travels back to Rodin’s own era with work by Klimt, an artist Rodin admired so much that when he first saw the painter’s monumental Beethoven Frieze (1901) in the Secession Building in Vienna, he clasped the artist’s hand and told him, “What an artist you are! You understand your métier.”
(“Auguste Rodin: The Centenary Installation” from 28 January 2017-9 April 2017)
(“Urs Fischer: The Public and the Private” from 22 April 2017-2 July 2017)
(“Sarah Lucas: Good Muse” until 24 September)
(“Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter” from 14 October 2017-28 January 2018)
“Rodin: The Centennial Exhibition,” Grand Palais, Paris
From March until this week [31 July] the Grand Palais, working in conjunction with the Musée Rodin, showed more than 200 works by the artist, as well as a selection of those by artists he inspired, including Brancusi, Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti and Beuys—many of whose works now command prices far higher than those of Rodin. Brancusi’s auction record was set this year at $57.4m for La muse endormie (1913) at Christie’s New York, for example, while Giacometti towers at $141m for L’homme au doigt (1947) at Christie’s New York in 2015.
Rodin’s influential experiments with materials played a prominent role in the show. “The exhibition at the Grand Palais deals with many of the aspects of modeling, the importance of the plaster, and Rodin’s influence on modern sculpture,” says Martin Chapman, Curator in Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “I loved seeing for the first time the dressing gown dipped in plaster used for modeling Balzac.” (Versions of Rodin’s studies for his Monument to Balzac (1897) have appeared on the market in recent years at prices ranging from around $25,000 for a bronze bust to upwards of $722,000 for a 42-inch figure.)
Divided into three chronological periods, the exhibition examined the artist’s early expressionist period, the innovations he debuted at the 1900 World’s Fair, and the post-First World War era, which saw many younger artists, including Max Beckmann, responding to Rodin—even if they maybe didn’t want to admit it during their own time.
(From 22 March 2017-31 July 2017. For more information, click here)