Sculpture Carves Its Own Niche
A Dallas businessman hopes his stunning collection will help bring 20th-century sculpture out from painting's shadow
The first thing you notice is the dazzling light. Inside the white coil of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where ramps spiral like a chambered nautilus, the central skylight is usually blocked to protect delicate paintings.Skip to next paragraph
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But with "A Century of Sculpture: The Nasher Collection," the current exhibition, "I had them open the skylights and let the natural light shine in," says Raymond Nasher. The Dallas businessman (who formed the collection with his late wife, Patsy) wishes to expose as brightly as possible the glories of 20th-century sculpture.
The goal: to change modern sculpture's status as painting's misunderstood stepsister and let the light of appreciation glow.
The show displays 105 sculptures from the past 125 years. With examples of all the major movements, it serves as a virtual survey of modern sculpture, from Rodin to the present. By touring the exhibit, even those who don't "get" why metal plates on the floor constitute sculpture can understand the century's constantly evolving developments.
"The body always expresses the spirit for which it is the shell," according to Rodin, whose late 19th-century sculpture made a decisive break with the classical tradition. Rodin's "Monument to Balzac" portrays the great writer as a volcano of creativity. The bronze statue leans back as if about to erupt. Its tilt demonstrates how form expresses spirit rather than actual appearance.
The great masters of Modernism are represented by Picasso, Brancusi, and Matisse. Picasso's cubist "Head (Fernande)" recalls an important turning point in art history. Cubism expresses the 20th century's loss of certainty. "Head" shows the slice-and-dice tendency to fragment mass into many discontinuous facets. Cheeks become intersecting planes rather than coherent forms.
Unusual among the carved or cast Figurative works is Medardo Rosso's fragile "The Golden Age," consisting of wax over plaster. The dual bust portrays a mother kissing her child in a composition of total togetherness. The two heads melt into a silky, reflective ball of light to express the essence of maternal love.
Brancusi's "The Kiss" brings sculpture into the realm of semiabstraction. The lovers merge into a block, out of which emerge arms and rudimentary features. Lips and eyes literally fuse in an image of unity. Inspired by primitive woodcarvings, Brancusi abstracted subjects to their essential nature.
Matisse"s "Large Seated Nude" is like a three-dimensional odalisque. She leans into space in an unstable pose that, nevertheless, conveys indolence and ease. The elongated body is reduced to basic shapes, like Matisse's arabesque line in his paintings.
Raymond Duchamp-Villon's "Large Horse" represents Futurism's love of technology and speed. The horse is all curves and planes, as if twisted into a corkscrew of contained energy.
Constructivism is represented by Naum Gabo's "Linear Construction in Space #1," a work of plexiglass and transparent nylon filaments. Infatuated with the Machine Age, Gabo desired to "use space as a new and absolutely sculptural element." He equated new materials with the new era after the Russian Revolution and open forms with utopian possibilities.