Bronze, an exhibition of epic proportions currently on view at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, is undoubtedly the only place visitors will ever see sculptures by Renaissance master Lorenzo Ghiberti and American modern artist David Smith side by side.
The concept of the show is simply its title, Bronze, a metal alloy combining a mixture of copper and tin. The range of works, exclusively large and small-scale sculptures, organised thematically (figures, gods, animals, heads, reliefs), baffles the mind by combining unlikely works spanning 5,000 thousand years from Asia, Africa and Europe.
The loose theme under which these works have been curated, connected only by their raw material, might lead one to argue that the show lacks focus, a cohesive scholarly argument, or an art historical context.
But for those looking only for the pleasure of viewing great art, it’s hard to argue with a show that brings together works by masters such as Giambologna, Pilon and Cellini, alongside Picasso, Matisse and Louise Bourgeois.
A Dancing Satyr from the 4th century BC dramatically opens the show, standing alone in the dimly lit centre atrium. Most striking is the ability to see inside the sculpture, its hollowness simultaneously displaying both the durability and delicacy of the metal from which it was created.
A few showstoppers included Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa, a sleek, monumental masterpiece depicting a muscular Perseus truly exemplifying the ideal of the male nude, holding the head of Medusa, her characteristic snakelike ringlets of hair seemingly swaying in the wind. His foot, meanwhile, sits atop her twisted, headless body.
Equally imposing, Giovanfrancisco Rustici’s figures of The Pharisee, St John the Baptist and The Levite, rumoured to have been worked on by Leonardo da Vinci, are eerily lifelike.
Similarly, Adriaen de Vries’ Vulcan’s Forge depicting a group of male nudes, actively hard at work in varying positions, reveals his meticulous skill in creating realistic figures within sculptural reliefs.
There are obvious parallels between works such as Ghiberti’s 15th century St. Stephen and an undated Roman figure exquisitely swathed in folds of drapery demonstrating antiquity’s influence on Renaissance artists. Meanwhile works that are worlds apart, such as an elongated Etruscan statuette and French artist Germaine Richier’s 20th century Praying Mantis, provoke an intriguing visual dialogue.
Beyond the realm of Western art, there are several works from Nigeria, China Japan and India including a late 14th/early 15th c Nigerian Bowman, on loan from the National Museum, Lagos, (juxtaposed with Italian Futurist Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space), a Ming Dynasty ‘Mahasidda Virupa’, a great being who has attained his spiritual goal, and an enormous Japanese incense burner from the 19th century.
Overall, the show demonstrates that working with bronze, which dates all way back to the ancients, has certainly stood the test of time. Its greatest strength lies in illuminating the diversity of bronze metal as evident by the range of works, and providing visitors with an understanding of the technique in which it is used. For instance, videos explaining the “lost wax process” are on view within the exhibition. But Anish Kapoor’s untitled mirrored dish comprised of copper and lacquer hits the wrong note. It seems like an afterthought or justification for extending the show’s timeline to 2012.
On view at London’s Royal Academy of Arts until 9 December 2012.
© 2012, ArtSmacked. All rights reserved.