Jim Chatelain and John Egner @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Cass Corridor, Connecting Times: Jim Chatelain and John Egner at Simone DeSousa Gallery

In Specters of Cass Corridor, a review of a 2012 retrospective of Cass Corridor artists at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art titled Menage a Detroit: Three Generations of Detroit Expressionistic Art, 1970-2012, the formidable Detroit art historian Vince Carducci wrote of the documentary, prophetic quality of the first generation of that movement’s work- of its deconstruction of the city’s transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism- from a stationary, vertically integrated manufacturing economy to a dispersed, continent-hopping manufacturing model and an economy in virtual free-fall (and this, in a metropolis built on rock-solid temples of industry.) The uncanny layering of chaos over order and of order over nature that provides a visual companion to Detroit’s narrative of cycling decline and renewal is explored from two sides of an ancient coin in Cass Corridor, Connecting Times: Jim Chatelain and John Egner, the newest in a string of Cass Corridor-centered shows curated by Nancy Mitchnick at Simone DeSousa Gallery.

Installation, Cass Corridor, Connecting Times: Jim Chatelain and John Egner, Images Courtesy of the Simone DeSousa Gallery

In Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia defines the Apollonian and the Dionysian as two sides of the coin of Western culture, held aloft with immense, opposed pressure. Apollo, god of light, solidity, and self-restraint, represents the empirical, continuous progress of the Enlightenment, of the Industrial Revolution, of the monolithic individual exemplified by such giants of Modernism as Pollack and Picasso. Dionysus, defined by Robert Pogue Harrison in Forests, The Shadow of Civilization as “…the mystery god of excess, orgiastic rapture, and visionary delirium- the god of the forests, as we have seen.” Connecting Times explores this opposition beyond language, juxtaposing the iron-clad elegance of John Egner’s forms with the visceral snarls of Jim Chatelain’s romantic visions.

Jim Chatelain, After the Garden is Gone, Oil on Canvas

Jim Chatelain and John Egner share a penchant for picture planes dominated by layered grids and powerful lines that radiate to the edges of their oblong panels. The grid can encompass both order and chaos. Egner’s web like Deep Storage evokes the logic of machine innards and the dense, precise organization of Diego Rivera’s Ford factory frescos, which every Detroit museum goer knows in her bones. Conversely, Chatelain’s After the Garden is Gone festoons a similar flat grid with stylized rose and leaf forms that compress into a shape reminiscent of a human skull- the modest slab of wood and rough, sticky surface of its make reinforces its status as an autonomous object. Even within the basic visual coda of Modernism, Chatelain’s images ring with a syntax drawn from Wordsworth- the same beautifully imperfect, melancholy ecology.

To her fair works did Nature link

The human soul that through me ran

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man.

-William Wordsworth, Lines Written In Early Spring

The assemblages of both artists travel along the same lines. While Egner’s Red Grid breaks familiar openings and angles into a minimal, abstract structure, Chatelain’s Candle Lamp brusquely reproduces two light-deliverers, a wax candle and a frumpy electric lamp, spliced together the way a violent god might splice two centuries. As in After the Garden is Gone, a rich, elemental symbolism connects Chatelain’s work to earth and embodied language.

John Egner,1972-6-Revised 73, Enamel on Masonite, 1973

What Chatelain and Egner’s work have in common, beyond the grid, is an important vein of Detroit history, opened and drawn into a narrative of Industry’s lights and shadows that applies to all cities of the Enlightenment. Their arch, and their decline, are calmly sifted into symbolic materials, surfaces and gestures by the ground-level view of these two artists.

Cass Corridor, Connecting Times: Jim Chatelain and John Egner Is on view at Simone DeSousa Gallery through July 8.

Simone DeSousa Gallery

Group Exhibition @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Jennifer Junkermeier Curates and Michaela Mosher Designs an Exhibition: Round in Circles.

Installation Image, Round in Circles, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, All Image Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

For a gallery owner to ask someone to curate an exhibition is both exciting and a little risky.  But George N’Namdi has been in this business for more than thirty-five years, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. By inviting a guest curator Jennifer Junkermeier, he is injecting new energy into his space, one that capitalizes on Detroit-based artists (33) and may very well bring new audiences into the gallery. Simone DeSousa has done something similar in her gallery, recruiting Nancy Mitchnik to curate some 70’s aging Cass Corridor artists (she is one herself) into her gallery, and both go outside the regular season because summer is the right time to do it.  This is N’Namdi’s third annual summer show of Detroit artists with an invited curator. In 2016 it was Essay’d VI by Steve Panton, and 2015 was Mundo ‘Mericas curated by Vito Valdez.

Opening June 16, 2017, Round in Circles, is a collection of Detroit-based visual artists that provide nearly every medium, including painting, drawing, sculpture, video, projection, and literary work on the wall. If you need to tie that together with an idea, why not use the circle as a place to start, if not literally in the work, then probably in the mind of the artist, or a metaphor that applies to almost anything, dating back about 3000 years. She says in her statement, “Yes, going round in circles is dizzying, at once nauseating and exciting, impoverished and plentiful, the form that implies nothing also embraces the possibilities of being everything.”

It’s a pleasure for a writer to pick out some favorites, and say a little something because it is almost impossible to write a review when there is such a variety of work as there is in this exhibition.

Graem White, You Are Here: Center of the Universe, Mixed Media, 11.5 x 14″

Graem Whyte is an artist that works with a wide variety of three-dimensional material, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on the wall.  Born and raised in metro Detroit, Whyte is based in Hamtramck, MI where he and his wife Faina Lerman oversee the community-based activity at Popps Packing. Whyte’s work always feels very unconventional, driven more by the idea than the material, illustrated in his one-person exhibition at Oakland University in 2012. In his work, You Are Here, it seems to play on the border, a manipulated LP record, a gold plate, and a burst of Mixed Media, suggesting that music can be concrete. Graem Whyte is an adjunct art instructor at the Center for Creative Studies.

Shanna Merola, Untitled 2, from series “We All Live Downwind”, Archival inkjet pigment print, 14 x 20″

The photograph by Shanna Merola, from the series, We All Live Downwind, seems driven by her interest in documentary photography, and a deep concern for social justice. This writer is not trying to figure out the context of these orange gloves holding a ceramic dish, rather – enjoying the surrounding and colorful pieces of torn paper. Merloa was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1980, earned her BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University, and an MFA Cranbrook Academy of Art.  She lives and works in Hamtramck, Michigan.

Todd Stovall, Untitled, Acrylic, Wood, 2 x 2′ 2017

Detroit artist Todd Stovall keeps the minimalist shaped canvas work alive in his work, Untitled, although this piece is entirely made of wood.  The context for this kind of approach might be artists like Charles Hinman, Ellsworth Kelly, and Frank Stella.  Stovall is not trying to do much with color, rather the simple power of shape, although the red wall is there to support his effort. 

Clara DeGalan, A Veiled Asking, Oil on canvas, 2016

This oil painting, A Veiled Asking, by Clara DeGalan reflects a deep and progressive direction from her earlier work in graduate school, an MFA from Wayne State University in 2015, and a two-person exhibition in 2016 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. It’s this idea of transparency and the illusion of dimension that creates a mystery that leaves us wanting, combined with an offset but a sturdy sense of composition. All of this held together by a circle and a piece of blue tape. Lovely. 

Round in Circles is a group exhibition that explores formal and metaphorical implications of the circular.” Says Junkermeier.  The exhibition could send a signal to other galleries, to experiment (certainly some do) during your summer months, and realizing there is limited space for thirty-three artists, at least I can mention their names as part of this exhibition.

Contributing Artistis: ‘jide Aje, Danielle Aubert, Corrie Baldauf, Davin Brainard, Tyanna J. Buie, Alexander Buzzalini, Shane Darwent, Clara DeGalan, Simone DeSousa, Erin Imena Falker, Jessica Frelinghuysen, Ani Garabedian, Richard Haley, Asia Hamilton, Megan Heeres, Eli Kabir, Osman Khan, Austin Kinstler, Nicola Kuperus, Timothy van Laar, Anthony Marcellini, Adam Lee Miller, Shanna Merola, Eleanor Oakes, Ato Ribeiro, Robert Platt, Marianetta Porter, Dylan Spaysky, Todd Stovall, Gregory Tom, Graem Whyte, Elizabeth Youngblood, and Alivia Zivich

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Round in Circles through August 26, 2017

Whitney Biennial 2017: an Observation from Detroit

Whitney Museum of Art, Exterior, 2017 Courtesy of WMA by Ed Leaderman

The Whitney Biennial draws to a close, but not without a review from Detroit that showcases artists with roots in Metro Detroit.

Moving downtown into the Renzo -Piano- designed building on New York City’s Gansevoort Street delayed the 2017 Whitney Biennial a year, but it was worth the wait, as the spacious and beautiful new museum sits high just off the Hudson River overlooking the Highline Park and Chelsea art community. Organized by Christopher Y. Lew, the Whitney’s associate curator, and Mia Locks, an independent curator, the exhibition highlights work by sixty-three individuals and collective’s artist works from all parts of the United States. The diversity of artists and media is staggering when considering the large demographic of contemporary art that is represented.

I was mostly surprised by how much space was committed to each artist, where entire rooms with 5 to -7 pieces of work were on display by each artist. It speaks to the size and space the new museum provides, luring an art-world audience, as the selections confront edgy social issues in the American culture.

Maya Stovall, Liquor Store Theatre, Video Performance, 2016

As promised, let’s start with Detroit. The videos of post-minimalist ballerina Maya Stovall are front and center as she offers her art from the sidewalks of Detroit illustrating modern dance working with collaborators Biba Bell, Mohamed Soumah, and Todd Stovall, she presents the motivations, genealogies, and sources of her Liquor Store Theater.

She says in her statement, “I am an artist interested in monumental questions of human existence. I am interested in place and space, cities, power, and the affect and desire of the day-to-day in people’s lives. I approach monumental questions of human existence with up close rigor. My work is steeped in philosophy, theory, and resonates with my way of being in the world.” The video screens and audio-fed headphones document a series of dance performances from the streets of Detroit. Stovall pays respectful homage to the cultural traditions in the Detroit black community as commercial developers swirl rapidly to gentrify the city.

Dana Schutz, Elevator, 2017. Oil on canvas, 144 x 180″

The artist Dana Schultz grew up in Livonia, attended High School at the Adlai Stevenson High School, and went on to obtain her BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and an MFA from Columbia University. As the elevator opens on the fifth floor of the Biennial, the viewer is immediately confronted with a large figurative oil painting, Elevator, which displays a kind of chaos occurring in the transitional space between two elevator doors, perhaps either opening or closing. There is an abstract, even cubist feeling to this colorful figure painting, depicting struggle and larger-than-life insects, adding to the feeling of anxiety, even fear. It took me a moment to understand why there were these two side panels attached to the work, until I read the title.

Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016. Oil on canvas, 40 x 56″

Schutz’s work seems to draw on social environments, best illustrated in her 2016 painting, Open Casket, that depicts her version of the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, a seminal event in the American civil rights movement. Controversy swirled around the work as exploitation, best described in The New Yorker by Calvin Tomkins:

In the current climate of political and racial unrest, Emmett Till seemed like a risky subject for a white artist to engage with. “I’ve wanted to do a painting for a while now, but I haven’t figured out how,” [Schultz] said. “It’s a real event, and it’s violence. But it has to be tender, and also about how it’s been for his mother. I don’t know, I’m trying. I’m talking too much about it.” In a later conversation, [Schultz] said, “How do you make a painting about this and not have it just be about the grotesque? I was interested because it’s something that keeps on happening. I feel somehow that it’s an American image.”

Dana Shultz resides in New York City, works out of her studio in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, and is represented by the Pretzel Gallery in New York City.

Carrie Moyer, Glimmer Glass, 2016. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 96 x 78 in”

Another Detroit artist in the Biennial, now living in Brooklyn, NYC, is Carrie Moyer, who received a BFA from Pratt Institute in 1985, and an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College in 2001. In an interview with Jennifer Samet for Hyperallergic, she says, “I was born in Detroit, where my family has longstanding roots. My grandfather was a policeman during the Detroit riots in the 1960s. But I had countercultural parents who put us in a van when I was nine and drove us out to California with all of our belongings. My family lived all over the Northwest for the next ten years — California, Oregon, and Washington.”

In her large acrylic painting, Glimmer Glass, it is the overlay and transparency that compliments her distinctive use of form. The vibrant painting embraces visual pleasure with watery veils of florescent hues, often mixed with glitter. The artist explains, “I’m interested in abstract painting that is experienced both visually and physically. The forms are constantly shifting from the familiar to the strange in a way that seems to escape words.”

Carrie Moyer, Candy Cap , 2016. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 72 x 96″

With her beginning in graphic design, Carrie Moyer has been a force in abstract painting since 2000 with a strong familiarity with the language of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism; she draws on influences like Georgia O’Keeffe and Elizabeth Murray. I was struck by the work, Candy Cap, where she depends heavily on a feminine composition of flower and organic shapes to form this work using acrylic transparency, glitter, and Flashe on canvas. Moyer is a Professor in the Art and Art History Department at Hunter College, where she is the Director of the Graduate Program. Moyer is represented by DC Moore Gallery.

Samara Golden, The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes, 2017. (Installation, 5th floor West Gallery). Insulation foamboard, extruded polystryrene, epoxy resin, carpet, vinyl, fabric, acrylic paint, spray paint, nail polish, plastic, altered found objects and mirror.

The artist Samara Golden was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1973, and received her BFA from Minneapolis College of Art & Design, and an MFA from Columbia University in 2009. She is an installation artist based in Los Angles, CA where her work often includes a combination of sculpture, video, and sound. Her first solo exhibition was The Flat Side of the Knife and was organized by Mia Locks at the Museum of Modern Art PS1. Golden’s work in the Biennial, The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes, feels like a dystopian environment overlooking the Hudson River that contrasts office and domestic spaces. Admittedly, this writer has limited skill in describing the aesthetic aspects of this work of mirrors, living rooms, and wheelchairs.

Henry Taylor, “THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH! (2017), acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96″

 

There are sixty-three artists represented in the Whitney Biennial, and this review has had Metro Detroit artists as its focus, but I would like to mention another artist, Henry Taylor, living and working out of Los Angeles, CA. With a BFA from California Institute for the Arts and a variety of life experience, Taylor has created a body of work that has a critical social sensibility that confronts the racial tension between law enforcement and the community they serve. In his work, The Times They Ain’t A Changing, Fast Enough! drawn from video, captures the moments after Philando Castile had been fatally shot by a police officer. Aside from the social message, I am drawn to the composition and naïve style in which Taylor executes his unaffected imagery. His empathetic style may draw on his ten years of working at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital near Santa Barbara, CA. Taylor’s work is represented by Blum & Poe in Los Angles, CA.

Aliza Nisenbaum (b. 1977), La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, 2016. Oil on linen, 68 x 88″

It could be that because this writer is also a painter, the work in the Biennial by Aliza Nisenbaum is immensely attractive. Known for depicting undocumented immigrants, there is something in the work La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, that combines working from live models, an elevated camera angle, and the casually colorful subject that connects with so many people. Born in Mexico City, Nisenbaum earned a BFA and MFA from the Chicago Art Institute. She says in her statement, “My work has repeatedly reflected on ideas of empathy or pathways for exchange between different people. My status as a legal American citizen makes me one of the few and privileged immigrants from my home country. Whether working with abstraction or, more recently, with still life and portraiture, I have tried to make paintings that support the experience of looking closer and with greater intention. My current body of work makes this connection explicit in its focus on the human face, which the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggests is inherently an ethical call to greater human justice.”

For me, her work personalizes the immigrant experience and could easily reflect the life in South West Detroit.

The new Whitney Museum of Art in its new location demonstrates in the curation of it’s 2017 Biennial a refreshing supply of under-recognized artists with diverse perspectives from all parts of the United States, and places itself at the center of American contemporary art.

Whitney Museum of Art

Bearing Witness: Carole Harris @ NCRC Rotunda Gallery

Carole Harris, University of Michigan, North Campus Research Center Rotunda Gallery, Installation Image

Talking in layers: walking into the enormous and alien territory of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center to see the exhibition “Bearing Witness,” the quilt works of Detroit artist Carole Harris hanging in the building’s Rotunda Gallery. Dramatically lit, a series of Harris’ dazzlingly colored fiber works punctuate the security-conscious, antiseptic space. It is a research facility that was formerly Pfizer Pharmaceutical (think Revolutionary anti-cholesterol med Lipitor that paid for the amazing building complex) and that, after the economic “downturn” of the ’80s, was purchased by the University of Michigan to now serve primarily as a medical research complex.

Harris’ brilliant, lively and layered textiles offer a shocking, perhaps painful contrast to the generic, monochromatic, modernist architectural surroundings of the NCRC building.  As a child growing up in Detroit, Harris was taught embroidery and stitching by her mother, and, being “height challenged” and quite petite, she learned to make her own clothes so they would fit properly. In high school at Cass Tech she studied music and science before settling on art, and, after graduating from college in 1966, she began an interior design practice that she maintained until recently.

In an ironic twist, her magnificent, globally influenced art looks almost captive in this sequestered, post-industrial landscape. It’s a long distance from Harris’ vibrant life in Detroit to the strange, emptiness of the medical research center.

In a recent talk at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum, Harris talked about her evolution as an artist and about deciding in 1966 to make her first quilt for her upcoming marriage. For a start, she used the simple, standard “pin wheel” pattern, and for “stuffing” used an old blanket: humble materials for a special moment. It’s a tradition for quilters to commemorate a birth or marriage by making one, and it was an auspicious moment for Harris and her husband, the playwright Bill Harris, the beginning of a marriage that has endured for over fifty very creative years.   While maintaining an interior design practice, she kept up her chops as a quilter and, like the jazz musicians she regularly honors in her quilt designs and titles, she played her scales: scissoring, stitching, splicing, editing, and learned her art form to perfection.

Harris’ fiber pieces at the Rotunda Gallery are a retrospective of the last twenty-five years or so of her work and feature what seem to be breakthrough visions for her. After years of using traditional forms, she recently began experimenting with works inspired by such diverse sources as the African Yoruba tribe’s Egungun textiles, Japanese Boro or “patchwork” folk textiles, architectural spaces derived from such American Abstract Expressionists as painter Richard Diebenkorn (especially his “City Scapes” and “Ocean Park” series), her childhood memories, or the storied erosion of historical buildings of the city in which she grew up, all with the astonishingly inventive, constant background soundtrack of black American music. In the process, Harris has quietly become an American master in a medium nurtured and influenced by black rural culture.

Carole Harris, Textile, Straight No Chaser, 60 x 69” 2006

The early work at the Rotunda Gallery reveals her break from traditional quilt patterns and shapes and, like much of the painting of the ’80s and ’90s (by Elizabeth Murray, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, et al.), explores ways of sculpting and lifting three dimensions to the flat surface of an abstract painting. “Outside the Lines,” 1994, posits an irregular shape, with a broad swath of negative space, corded fabric and loosely hanging strips, to create a sense of movement suggesting Harris’ homage to a Yoruba Egungun ceremonial dance that celebrates departed elders. Despite the radical break, Harris still uses basic quilt-making components such as individually composed “squares” and elaborate stitching to give texture and amazing painterly pattern to the surface.

Carole Harris, Textile, Way Across Town, Textile, 59 x 70” 2008

There are two straight-up stunning works that employ hard-edged, geometric shapes of vibrant color balanced by coal-black negative space: “Way Across Town,” 2008, and “Straight No Chaser,” 2006, both in homage to Thelonious Monk, and that show Harris to be a daring colorist with both quilts centering a rectangle of electric purple supporting an array of oblique wedges and squares of oranges and reds. Not always a compliment, to be called a colorist sometimes implies that one is artistically not up to snuff, but this is hardly the case, as both of these works feature eye-popping geometric invention, and there’s real graphic genius operating here. With their daring, geometric slashes and exploration of architectural space, they might even reference the agitprop designs of the great Russian constructivists El Lissitsky and Rodchenko, from whom Diebenkorn, one of Harris’ honored influences, certainly learned. Throughout this visual musicality Harris keeps up an overall rhythm with a running stitch, sometimes with curving arabesques, sometimes with an angular geometric backbeat.

Carole Harris, Textile, From Before, 58 x 45 2013

Harris’ quilts from the last couple of years suggest the influence of the Japanese phenomenon of Boro patchwork clothing. Japanese peasants, especially in the 19th century, being economically challenged, would patch their clothing with remnants of old, worn-out garments, creating a remarkably beautiful folk style of dress. Using the running stitch, sashiko, to bind the patches to the old clothing, they would create a decorative pattern. There are six works in “Bearing Witness” that use the Boro technique. “From Before,” 2013, uses a layering of remnants or swatches — one is hand-stained with a radiating pattern– that overall suggests a geographical mapping. The irregularly shaped “Other People’s Memories,’ 2016, layers found remnants of clothing in various colors and patterns and combine machine and hand stitching to create what feels like a fragment of an ancient textile.

Carole Harris, Textile, Other People’s Memories 39 x57” 2016

Likewise, three small seasonal “sketches” — “Spring Ascending,” 2016, “Fall Etude,” 2015, and “Winter Etude” 2015 — combine stained remnants, machine and hand stitching, burnt holes, and hand-stitched florets, to image topographical maps that indeed, in their lyrical beauty, echo Chopin’s Etudes themselves.

The last piece to come out of Harris’ studio just for the exhibition was indeed the title work.

“Bearing Witness” is a tour de force of contemporary image making. It amalgamates not only Harris’s quilt-making magic with the disparate influences of her far-reaching eye, but is a profoundly rich metaphor for the deep struggle of living, of the balancing of life’s experiences, of listening and watching and caring for the world. This sublimely visual layering of color, shape, and line is not only an act of art but — what resonates through in this process of layering the fabric of life by hand— is an act of deep caring. The title “Bearing Witness” is thus not misplaced on Carole Harris’ practice as a whole.

Carole Harris, Bearing Witness, Textiles, 42 x53” 2017

“Bearing Witness” continues at the Rotunda Gallery through August 23

U-M North Campus Research Complex, 2800 Plymouth Road, Building 18, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Rodin @ Flint Institute of Arts

An Exhibition from the Gerald Cantor Foundation

Installation Image Flint Institute of Art

Fresh out of the army, in 1946 Gerald Cantor purchased a bronze version of Rodin’s The Hand of God, thus beginning what he called his lifelong “magnificent obsession” with Rodin. Today, with over 750 sculptures and drawings in its collection, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation boasts of the world’s largest private collection of works by the artist, the majority of which have been gifted or loaned to museums throughout the world. Rodin, The Human Experience, on view at the Flint Institute of Arts, is a muscular exhibition of 45 sculptures on loan from the Cantor Foundation, offering an impressive survey Rodin’s artistic career. Expect to see more Rodin in one place than nearly anywhere else this side of the Atlantic.

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840-1917, Large Hand of a Pianist, modeled 1885, Musee Rodin, cast 9, 1969

Rodin possessed an uncanny knack for creating emphatically expressive sculpture, even when the sculpted forms were merely a clutching hand or straining torso. They surge with energy, and the surfaces of his figures were left calculatedly rough, so as to catch the light and imbue a sense of movement. They need to be seen in the round, and, thankfully, nearly all the works on view are thoughtfully displayed for viewing from multiple sides.

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840 – 1917, Narcisse, modeled about 1882,enlarged and retitled 1890; Musée Rodin, cast 8/8 in 1985, Bronze, 32 × 13 × 12 1/4 inches. Lent by Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation.

The exhibition comfortably fills the spacious Hodge Galleries with works both large and small. Some of the most interesting sculptures, in fact, are the wispy, diminutive studies Rodin made—never intended for display—which reveal how he worked out compositional problems. These offer a glimpse at his working process.

The Gates of Hell was his breakout masterpiece, and the teeming cascade of figures which writhe on its surface served as inspiration for many of his subsequent works, like The Thinker, which in its original state, was perched high on the doors, meditatively and dispassionately contemplating the inferno below.

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840 – 1917, Three Faunesses, modeled before 1896; Musée Rodin, cast in 1959, cast number unknown, Bronze, 9 1/4 × 11 1/2 × 6 1/2 inches. Lent by Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation.

Several studies for Rodin’s triumphant posthumous monument to Balzac are on display; one of his most iconic works, Rodin obsessed about getting the likeness correct, going so far as to arrange for Balzac’s tailor to make a suit of Balzac’s dimensions; this was worn by a model who was a dead-ringer for the author himself. In the end, though, Rodin sculpted Balzac shrouded the monk’s robe he famously wore as he wrote.

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840 – 1917, Bust of Victor Hugo, modeled 1883; cast number and date unknown, Bronze, 17 × 10 1/4 × 10 3/4 inches. Lent by Iris Cantor

There are several studies for the Burghers of Calais, a project that now seems ideally suited for Rodin, though it was poorly received at its unveiling. The emotionally charged ensemble depicts a group of citizens of Calais about to sacrificially offer themselves to the English, who during the Hundred Years War, had laid siege to the city. Each man reacts differently; one, clasping his head, seems distraught. On the face of another we read steely determination. Their entire bodies viscerally respond to the emotional weight of certain death, and the ensemble allowed Rodin to fully explore sculpture as a vehicle for expressing emotion.

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840 – 1917, Fallen Caryatid with Urn, modeled 1883, enlarged 1911-17; Musée Rodin, cast 4 in 1982, Bronze, 45 1/4 × 36 3/4 × 31 1/8 inches. Lent by Iris Cantor.

When Sixteenth Century art historian Giorgio Vasari described Michelangelo’s sculptures as terribilita (“terrible,” in English), he certainly wasn’t insulting them; the word then meant what we might today describe as “awesome,” like a fearfully powerful thunderstorm.   It’s hard not to experience a streak of the same sensation as you stand in these rooms full of Rodin’s sculptures; they’re absolutely sublime.   The forty-five works which comprise this exhibition are an infinitesimally small fraction of Rodin’s prodigious output; nevertheless, they’re more than enough to support the assessment, made by many, that Rodin was, without question, the greatest sculptor of his time.

Flint Institute of Art   This exhibition has been organized and made possible by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. On exhibition through July 30, 2017