Exhibition | Bronze at The Royal Academy

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, reviews by Editor on October 20, 2012

Reviewed for Enfilade by Craig Ashley Hanson

Royal Academy of Arts, London, 15 September — 9 December 2012

Curated by David Ekserdjian and Cecilia Treves

Critics have been raving about Bronze since it opened last month at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Notwithstanding the exhibition’s sweeping coverage–in terms of geography and history–I didn’t initially include it here at Enfilade as I had trouble finding eighteenth-century points of relevance. Indeed, out of dozens of objects shown across ten rooms, only a handful of works were produced during the period. And yet, now that I’ve seen the exhibition, I’m convinced dix-huitièmistes should pay attention.

Organized by theme rather than time and place, the range of works is staggering. If, in keeping with traditional historiographical models, the show begins with an achingly beautiful example from ancient Greece–a recently recovered Dancing Satyr–it quickly brings an international array of work into open and productive dialogue. On display are works from Ghana and Nigeria, Eturia and Rome, China and Japan, Northern Europe and the United States. Categories one might expect to see are well represented: ritual dining vessels from Shang dynasty tombs, classicizing work from Renaissance Florence, Buddhist work from India (including an extraordinary sixth-century Buddha Shakyamuni from Bihar). Rodin’s Age of Bronze is, of course, included. But there are surprises, too: ancient court objects from Israel (a crown, scepter, and vulture standard), sixteenth-century French spurs, a basketball by Jeff Koons. Works by Giambologna appear next to an oversized spider by Louise Bourgeois (climbing the wall, no less).

François Girardon, Laocoön and His Sons, ca. 1690 Houghton Hall, Norfolk/Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London, Roy Fox (click for more info)

While it all could have gone horribly wrong, the experience of viewing the exhibition appears to be, for most viewers, one of coherence rather than confusion, coherence derived from the thoughtful attention to the possibilities of bronze as a material. The medium is the subject in an entirely convincing, indeed revelatory manner. The varieties of objects, selected from a global vision of art history, work thanks to careful attention to exploration of seven thematic categories: figures, animals, groups, objects, reliefs, gods, and heads. Scale and texture, color and composition, the tensile strength and resulting artistic flexibility of bronze all become matters of first, rather than passing, interest.

And for the eighteenth-century? The final room of heads includes original choices: Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi’s Damned Soul of 1705 after Bernini and Anne Damer’s Mary Berry from 1793, while François Girardon’s Laocoön from Houghton Hall, ca. 1690, exerts a commanding presence in the gallery dedicated to groups. Particularly compelling for me, in that same room, is the sensitive installation of Francesco Bertos’s 1730s allegorical group of Sculpture, Arithmetic, and Architecture from the Prado. Placed alongside Giambologna’s 1576 Nessus and Deianira (a centaur abduction scene) and Alessandro Algardi’s 1647 St. Michael Overcoming the Devil, Bertos’s work appears as an entirely legible development from Renaissance humanism, to forceful Baroque religious expression, to refined Enlightened optimism. Adrian de Vries’s Hercules, Nessus and Deianira of 1622 dominates the center of the gallery, making the relationships–the similarities and differences within this 150-year period–all the more striking.

Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, after Bernini, Damned Soul (‘Anima Dannata’), 1705-07. Bronze with golden-red lacquer patina, 39.5 cm. Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna. Photo © Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Vienna

And so historical arguments do exist within the exhibition, even if there’s no obvious central argument based on tracking change over time (it is I think one reason material from all over the world can be placed side by side so effectively). One may wish there were more eighteenth-century offerings–I’ll leave those criticisms to the sound judgment of my colleagues. But, for me, it is an exhibition that likely would make a lot more sense to eighteenth-century connoisseurs than the much more tightly focused, monographic approaches dominating exhibitions in the present age. No only is it a show I think many eighteenth-century viewers would understand (with admittedly a bit of instruction), it’s a show I think they would like.

Alongside it, the catalogue offers innovative models for thinking about different ways exhibitions generally might succeed. The book pairs beautifully with the catalogue for the 2009 exhibition Cast in Bronze: French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution, available–for anyone regretting that there aren’t more eighteenth-century works on
display–in the Royal Academy gift shop on the way out.

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Catalogue: Bronze (London: Royal Academy Publications, 2012), 248 pages, ISBN: 9781907533280, $65.

Bronze, long celebrated for its durability and the wide range of effects that it offers, has been prized as an artistic material in many parts of the world throughout the ages. Magnificent bronze sculptures from the ancient times have emerged unscathed after millennia on the sea bed. It is a material that has been used on all scales, from the minute to the monumental. This sumptuous catalogue examines bronze’s earliest beginnings in North Africa, the Middle East and China as it transcended tools and weaponry to become a medium of fine art. Expert authors chart the virtuousity of artists in ancient Greece and Rome; developments in Asia and Africa; bronze’s great flowering in the European Renaissance and its use in the modern era by artists such as Rodin, Picasso, Brancusi and Bourgeois.

A unique testament to the works of art that one medium has inspired, Bronze contains lavish colour plates of over 150 masterworks arranged chronologically to take the reader on a voyage through time, tracing the work of sculptors, casters and chasers through the centuries.

Conference | New Perspectives on the Romantic Period

Posted in conferences (to attend) by Editor on October 20, 2012

From the conference website:

New Perspectives on the Romantic Period
Tate Britain, London, 6 -7 November 2012

Registration deadline: 26 October 2012

A student-led conference in association with the Tate Research Centre: British Romantic Art

The Tate Research Centre: British Romantic Art aims to promote research on British art from around 1770 to 1850. Tate’s collection of watercolours and drawings, and major holdings of the work of William Blake and John Constable is among the greatest in the world. With a special focus on Blake, Constable and Turner, the Centre offers a programme of events and activities aimed at encouraging research on these artists and on the Romantic era as a whole, as well as the legacy of Romantic art and culture in Britain and around the world.

This two-day conference, organised by PhD students in collaboration with Tate, will feature papers by British and international post-graduates working on the Romantic period with contributions focusing on British art and visual culture of the period c.1770–1850. Papers will offer new perspectives on the iconic artists of the Romantic period: Turner, Constable, Blake, David Wilkie, Edwin Landseer, John Sell Cotman, John Martin, James Barry and Benjamin Robert Haydon, all of whom are represented in the Tate collection. Themes under discussion in the conference will include the material concerns of artists, examining the use of different media artists’ multidisciplinary interests and approaches, and their self-representation and identity, as well as landscape and travel, political and religious themes, and cross-period connections.

The conference will make use of Tate Britain’s resources, with the chance to get up close to works in the collection and see items that are rarely shown in public. Attendance to the conference is free and open to current students. Places are limited, so please book early to secure a place: newperspectives@tate.org.uk

Join the Twitter conversation at: #britishromanticart

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6 November 2012, 11.30-18.00

Session 1: Travel and Romantic journey
•    Sarah Moulden, Cotman in Yorkshire: Patronage, Pencil, Resistance
•    Aneta Lipska, Word-painting and 19th-century aesthetic discourses in Marguerite Blessington’s Journals

Session 2: Turner’s multidisciplinary practice
•    Marion Martin, Mingling voices: Turner’s early exhibited works
•    Christine Lai, ‘Perpetual Revolution’: J. M. W. Turner & Romantic Architecture

Session 3: Prints
•    Hayley Flynn (née Morris), Landscape in Blake: the Job Illustrations
•    Esther Chadwick, Experiments in Liberty: Barry’s Phoenix and late-18th-century artists’ prints in Britain

Session 4: Iconography of space and place
•    Vivien Estelle Williams, The bagpipe as a national identifier: English v. Scottish Romantic portrayals
•    Jordan Mearns, Romancing the Past: Mary, Queen of Scots and Sentimental Historiography in Late Eighteenth-Century British History Painting
•    María Egea García, Artists’ Studios in English Painting: 1770-1850

7 November 2012, 10.00-16.00

Session 5: Material matters
•    Sarah Gould, The Paradigm of texture in the works of Constable and Turner: redefining matter
•    Alice Coombs, Glass and Paper: Manufacturing Experience in John Martin’s The Last Judgement, The Great Day of His Wrath and The Plains of Heaven
•    Gabriella Szalay, Material Matters: Jan van Eyck in the Age of Romanticism

Session 6: The body
•    Thomas Ardill, Healing Miracles in British Art, c.1812-1823
•    Cora Gilroy-Ware, Turner’s Reclining Venus, 1828

Session 7: Romantic legacy
•    Lee Hallman, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and the Legacy of British Romanticism
•    Shannon Rollins, Anachronism as Aesthetic: Steampunk and J.M.W. Turner
•    Laura Kuch, The Seed of Romanticism: In Search of the Blue Flower: Exploring the relevance of the German Romantics’ ideas in artistic creation today – An artist’s (re)search

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