Catherine Chevillot, Director of Musée Rodin in Paris, talks to Art is Alive about Rodin’s legacy in the face of the fantastic Kiefer / Rodin exhibition running until 22 October 2017.
How renowned is Rodin 100 years after his death?
Rodin has never been as renowned as he is now! He is known around the world and his works are presented in countless museums on every continent, which was not the case during his lifetime. In 1900, at the height of fame, Rodin was visited at his home in Meudon by illustrious guests like the King of England and numerous artists such as Brancusi. But it was the donation of his work to the French State in 1916 and the creation of a museum at the site of his choice, the Hôtel Biron, which ensured his recognition throughout the 20th century. The musée Rodin in Paris now receives 600,000 visitors per year on average, but thanks to the exhibitions that we design abroad, more than one million amateurs can discover the artist’s work every year. Major collections are presented in Europe, in London, Zurich and Copenhagen, as well as in the United States at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the National Gallery in Washington and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, in Mexico, in Japan in Tokyo and Shizuoka, in South Korea, in Australia in Sydney, and many more. By including Rodin in the curriculum for the baccalaureate in visual arts, the French National Education system has established him as a media artist, thus introducing thousands of young people to a history and a mode of expression through the study of his work. Rodin’s reputation among today’s most recognised artists demonstrates how the responses he brought to his era still reverberate with current leanings. Most great artists are still fascinated by his work, and Anselm Kiefer has accepted a carte blanche at the musée Rodin. This reputation also takes forms more accessible to the average person: la Monnaie de Paris will be releasing a two-euro coin bearing the image of The Thinker, so that everyone can carry a piece of Rodin in their pocket! The French Post Ofce will also be releasing a stamp of The Kiss, and Rodin will be played by the actor Vincent Lindon in a film by Jacques Doillon.
How do we see Rodin today?
With all of the research carried out over thirty years and taken into account in the new museography of the musée Rodin, which reopened in November 2015, our view of Rodin’s work has changed significantly. It is now richer and more comprehensive than ever. The days of displaying solely final pieces and “noble” materials are a thing of the past. Transitory phases reveal a highly innovative creative process, laying the foundations for the avant-garde trends. Assemblage, a technique typical of Rodin’s work, is one example of this. Rodin had numerous plaster copies of his figures which he assembled as his research progressed, not necessarily taking into account proportions but focusing on the sought-after efect. MUSÉE RODIN | CENTENARY AUGUSTE RODIN | Press kit | p.7 The assemblage Mask of Camille Claudel and Left Hand of Pierre de Wissant (one of the Burghers of Calais) is a perfect example. The museum also houses enlargements in plaster pushed to their limits, the Muse Whistler, for example, which shows similarities between Rodin and Picasso. Known for his public monuments, bronzes and his advocacy of feminine sensuality, this side of Rodin is enriched by a more intimate and unusual side, the daring research work for which is now accessible. Rodin witnessed a world transformed by technological, intellectual and social revolutions, and his art has found resonance in a modern world that is also experiencing upheaval on many fronts.
What challenges does the Musee Rodin face as the artist’s successor?
The musée Rodin faces a number of challenges. Its first objective is to raise the profile of the works through exhibitions in France and abroad. The policy in place at the musée Rodin regarding loans to other French museums has been stepped up in Calais, Caen, Rodez, Nantes and soon Lyon. But the collections are also promoted through exhibitions, publications, online catalogues (collections.musee-rodin.fr) and the creation of specific websites like the one designed for the exhibition Hell according to Rodin on The Gates of Hell. Moreover, as the artist’s beneficiary, the museum holds a very special position. As the holder of the artist’s moral right, it actively monitors the art market to identify and prosecute counterfeiters. The museum continues, in accordance with Rodin’s wishes, to cast original bronze works. This unusual artist designed a unique economic model for his museum, as the institution has been self-financed since it was founded one hundred years ago. But these casts are also a way to renew our vision of the works, and to enrich national collections as many models were not released during Rodin’s lifetime. The musée Rodin thus recently added the 3rd copy of Aphrodite, large model to its collections. In 2017, several previously unpublished subjects will be cast, and revealed in March.
How has the image of Rodin evolved over hundred years?
Just like Michelangelo, Rodin’s success remains steadfast. Rodin is a heavyweight in art history, received with enthusiasm from China all the way to the United States. Like Michelangelo, he uses the vocabulary of the body, he talks of human passions and destinies, a language that speaks to all cultures and all shades of opinion. His aura will last beyond the current period due to the key role he plays between classical and modern art: this is the man who, as his contemporaries said, “brought sculpture to life”.