There are some art exhibitions that I could easily miss. I think my tastes in art are fairly wide ranging, but French bronze sculpture from the renaissance to the French revolution doesn’t fall particularly high on my list. In this summer’s Artforum, Robert Pincus-Witten’s review of Cast in Bronze gave the show high marks for the skill and virtuosity of the artists included, giving the art-world equivalent of a thumbs-up. So when I received an invitation to the press opening at the Getty, I thought, “Pourquois pas?”Jean Goujon's Tomb Effigy of André Blondel de Rocquencourt, 1560
(for some reason, the Getty chose to hang this work on the wall)
I try my best to own up to my own baggage that I bring to art. In the realms of politics and religion, there were those eras when rulers held their position—or moral codes were espoused—from a position that ultimately argued, “Because I said so." From the enlightenment on, the lodestar of civic pursuits has been parsed from logic and argumentation (at least we hope). So when looking at art, I need to take a “leap of reason” to get past the flagrant proselytizing and appreciate the core humanity (or virtuosity) of a work of art.
In the first gallery at the Getty Center, The Tomb Effigy of Andre Blondel de Rocquencort is expert in its bas-relief figuration that alludes to elements of neoclassic and medieval styles. Across from this work are a pair of Funerary Geniuses that obviously are inspired by Michelangelo’s tomb for Lorenzo de' Medici. In the next gallery a handsome Young Captive in Chains sits next to an older chained cousin.Barthélemy Prieur's Funerary Geniuses (from the tomb of Christophe de Thou) 1583-5
Keeping up the pretense of appreciation solely based on formal criteria and artistic virtuosity was too much to bear. Eventually, the naked, fit, and secular bodies give way the rotund Kings Louis XIII and XIV, and little bronze tchotchke casts for the nouveau haute bourgeoisie. In Cast in Bronze’s iteration at the Metropolitian Museum of Art, the NY Times’ Ken Johnson describes the sculptures as showing:Pierre de Francqueville's Young Captive in Chains, 1618
“…a cold impersonality, cramped imagination and slavish obeisance to the official culture of their times. This is not art discovering new possibilities of romantic individualism but a conservative, backward-looking genre that affirms and celebrates imperial power and order.”History tells us that many of the bronzes of the era were melted down in the French revolution. The fourth gallery shows us small-scale reproductions, engravings, and other ephemera of the humongous Louis XIV on Horseback that joined the fate of bronzes of Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein—torn down, trampled and melted; what always happens when politics shift while a leader is still fresh in the people memory (as opposed to those leaders who slowly transform over time into cloudy historical metaphors). It would seem that in the continuum from political to aesthetic appreciation (or disgust), politics trumps beauty, if the viewership becomes sufficiently pissed off. The centerpiece of the gallery is the extant left foot of le Roi Soleil. If only we had bronze monument of Dick Cheney we could pummel with the Louvre’s left shoe. Or instead of the ancillary exhibition, Foundry to Finish: the Making of a Bronze Sculpture, the Getty could have provided reproductions of bronze dictators that visitors could topple and then trample.
Perhaps it’s OK to be put off by these objects that attempt to garner prestige by association. On the press kit that holds the handouts is printed:François Girardon's Louis XIV's Left Foot, 1692-4
(photo by Diane Calder)
implying that I should be impressed by the institutional prestige, if not by the rigor of the scholarship. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of tram riders to the travertine acropolis in Brentwood never venture inside the building?SEEN AT
OCTOBER 24, 2008-JANUARY 19, 2009
FEBRUARY 24-MAY 24, 2009
THE GETTY CENTER
JUNE 30-SEPTEMBER 27, 2009