Rodin: Men of Weakness, Men of Power

Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “Falling Man” plays on Rodin’s themes of vulnerability within even the most powerful of men, as displayed by the muscular, strong figure that is eternally caught in his moment of pain.
Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “Large Right Clenched Hand” creates a sense of  anguish in the spectator. It suggests the futility of grasping at what is beyond mankind’s reach. The fingers are positioned as if at extreme pain, giving a sense of rigor mortis.

Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “Large Right Clenched Hand” creates a sense of anguish in the spectator. It suggests the futility of grasping at what is beyond mankind’s reach. The fingers are positioned as if at extreme pain, giving a sense of rigor mortis.

Rodin’s statues conjure up an ideal of man that is, at its core, much more complex and tortured than what would appear at the surface. The sculptures of overtly muscular men with their tendons taut and sinew muscles rippling display in their poses a deeper vulnerability. In “Falling Man,” the muscular hero figure is twisting and falling. His body is contorted backward as he hangs suspended in his moment of weakness.

The commentary on the essence of mankind, is what elevates Rodin’s work. He pays homage to Michelangelo and his Greek predecessors, with too perfect torsos and impossibly handsome leonine features. However, the sculptures do not worship this image, so much as undermine the perfection that appears. The power in this image of man both a power figure and innately flawed has a highly religious connotation.

This is exemplified in his work “The Gates of Hell.” The photo image of the complete door was displayed along with some of the actual figures from it. These figures, which are often inspired by characters from Dante Aligheri’s “The Divine Comedy,” represent carnal lust and erotic sins. “The Thinker,” a work that has eclipsed its sculptor Rodin in its prominence and recognition, is widely thought to be a depiction of Dante, who inspired Rodin so greatly.

Rodin never saw “The Gates of Hell” cast in bronze, however he cast many of the sculptures he intended to be on it, including “The Thinker,” “The Kiss” and “The Three Shades.”

Several of this works have a deeper level that allows for enjoyment beyond the larger work. “Fugitive Love,” which was originally meant to show sinners condemned for forbidden sexual relations. The poignancy of the serpentine couple expresses much more to a modern-day audience. The work evokes the feelings of loss and pain that so often accompany love, and the difficulty of releasing someone you love even if it is a, “Fugitive Love.”

The exhibit was varied and included on some Rodin’s most important works, “The Gates of Hell,” “The Burghers of Calais,” and “The Monument to Balzac.”

Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “Falling Man” plays on Rodin’s themes of vulnerability within even the most powerful of men, as displayed by the muscular, strong figure that is eternally caught in his moment of pain.

Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “Falling Man” plays on Rodin’s themes of vulnerability within even the most powerful of men, as displayed by the muscular, strong figure that is eternally caught in his moment of pain.

The most powerful feature of the exhibit is the feeling of motion and life inherent in Rodin’s work. He once said, “Art cannot exist without life. If a sculptor wishes to interpret joy, sorrow, any passion whatsoever, he will not be able to move us unless he first knows how to make the beings live which he evokes.”

Many of his works summon a sense of anguish within the spectator, such as his series of sculptures that depict contorted hands. “Large Right Clenched Hand” was one of the most striking examples.

While creating idealized figures, the works themselves often reflect Rodin’s interest in leaving the seams open in the casting process, and experimenting with irregular exteriors. The burnished bronze reflects the light, glinting off the uneven surface of the statues; the calculated disproportion hints at the underlying flaws. These experiments greatly inspired the movement of sculpture in the 20th century.

The free exhibit in the Bloch Lobby of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will run through June 3, 2012.

ladams@unews.com

Lindsay Adams is a senior staff writer in her third year with the University News. To contact Lindsay, email ladams@unews.com.

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