Bodies across space and time

Until 2 JULY 2017

Auguste Rodin—one of the undisputed masters of modern art—revolutionised the way we look at, and think about, the human body. A full century after his death, the French sculptor’s radical reappraisal of the figure continues to fascinate audiences and scholars alike.

Rodin broke the sculptural mould. Discarding the staid academic attitudes of the establishment, he developed a mode of expression that privileged creativity and process, and which spoke to the anxieties and uncertainties of a new age. The Parisian’s alchemical talent turned matter into movement, and he created works that crackled with energy and pulsed with emotion. His sculptures also questioned received notions of style, taste and decorum. The world had never seen anything like it, and, when he died at the age of seventy-seven, Rodin was a towering figure in European art.

Fast-forward to our own image-saturated era, one which seems to be increasingly preoccupied with the body, and Rodin’s game-changing focus on the human figure is perhaps more relevant than ever before. Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time explores this legacy, drawing on the Art Gallery of South Australia’s collection of bronzes by Rodin, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The exhibition places these masterpieces in conversation with a selection of figurative works by key modern and contemporary artists.

In a daring series of duels and duets, Versus Rodin teases out the tensions and harmonies implicit in the act of figuring human identity. Significantly, the exhibition breaks new ground by enacting a dialogue between Rodin’s sculptures and the work of leading contemporary artists from Australia and overseas.

Curatorial premise

The history of art can be viewed as a history of bodies and gazes. Versus Rodin is an exhibition of bodies—whole, partial, composite, transitional, morphing and synthetic. Collectively, they create an arena of figures, busts, masks, muscles, bones and skins, a theatre of anatomy in which to contemplate the representation of the body and the perception of the self.

The Gallery’s collection of works by Rodin is the axis around which revolve more than 200 works from international and Australian artists, including a number of works commissioned for the exhibition. Themes explored include the classical, fragmented, erotic, emotional and social body. In addition Versus Rodin presents an opportunity to delve into the collection and bring to light significant modern and contemporary works, some of which are displayed for the first time, others which have not been seen for decades.

Rather than recasting Rodin’s reputation in the context of the contemporary, Versus Rodin allows us to review the correspondences and contrasts between his work and those of his most challenging modern and contemporary successors.

The exhibition considers a range of questions. How has the treatment of the body changed over this time? How and why have ideas and art forms shifted, and what is at stake today in the representation of the body 100 years on?

Leigh Robb
Curator, Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time


Image – detail: Auguste Rodin, France, 1840–1917, Pierre de Wissant, monumental nude, c.1886–87 (Coubertin Foundry, cast 1985), Paris, bronze, 215.0 x 100.0 x 60.0 cm, William Bowmore AO OBE Collection. Gift of the South Australian Government, assisted by the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 1996, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide