press release

Exhibition produced by: MART of Rovereto and GAM of Turin with the collaboration of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna of Milan

Twenty-five years have passed since the last large retrospective of Medardo Rosso, late 19th century Italian artist who profoundly innovated sculpture, thereby becoming a “phenomenon” for his contemporaries throughout the world. Today he still arouses numerous interpretive questions.

In any event, there have never been so many of Medardo’s works gathered in one exhibition, many of which are on display for the first time in Italy. The exhibition includes the artist’s entire career: from his first sculpture – El Looch circa 1880, on loan from the Minneapolis Institute of Art in the original version and never before exhibited anywhere – to his last work: Ecce Puer of 1906, which poses the question of this great sculptor’s possible shift toward Symbolism.

The exceptional exhibition “Medardo Rosso. Le origini delle scultura moderna”, which was first held at the MART of Rovereto from 28 May to 22 August 2004, was curated by Luciano Caramel, and the project was designed by Gabriella Belli and Pier Giovanni Castagnoli. Even the title indicates the explosive force and “revolutionary” thrust of the remarkable artist. One could even call him the “Cézanne” of sculpture, for his capacity to force the language of sculpture, as the French painter forced perspective. The Turin show will display over sixty sculptures by Medardo, twenty photographs, ten of his drawings and fifteen works of major artists who had relations with Medardo or were influenced by him (such as Rodin, Picasso, Brancusi, Mattisse and Boccioni) on loan from Japan, the United States and from numerous European museums and collections. It will allow visitors to reinterpret the man and the artist, previously too hastily labeled an impressionist.

It will be an opportunity to highlight the complex interweaving of the works that contributed to the artist’s maturation – from the formal ones of the Scapigliati to the ideological ones of the “second Scapigliatura”, from the scientific contribution of positivism – leading him to that mélange, that whole of matter and atmosphere which can be admired in works such as La Portinaia of 1883-1884, the bronze of which will be exhibited (on loan from the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art) and two waxworks, one from Hakone and the other from a private collection. Works in which Medardo questions the statutes of sculpture, in which he allows us to “forget matter” through an interaction of objects and space and the vibration of planes hit by light. Medardo’s sculpture is living sculpture. It lives by virtue of his choice of subjects and emotional participation, as in the compositional solutions that are extremely innovative in the free distribution of characters in space, as in his beautiful “Conversazione in giardino” of 1896, one of his master works en plein air.

Medardo’s constant research, his inclination toward a sculpture of light that touches people’s hearts, can also be seen in the sculptor’s conceptual reinterpretation of and ironic view of his own works; as in the prolific series of so-called “comparison works” which are copies of ancient works or Renaissance masterworks, even freestyle d’après, or casts of works “in full opposition to the postulates of form and poetics that underlie Rosso’s plastic work”.

The sculptor used these comparisons to demonstrate the greater truth “in the sense of correspondence to the natural energy and non-isolation of every object” and superior artistic value of his works in relation to those of the past; but he also exhibited them in his personal shows and sold them as his own works. In the upcoming exhibition there will be interesting specimens of the comparison works, such as “Testa dell’Imperatore Vitellio” in the bronze version and the version which Rosso painted gold and opened with a large cut on the nape of the neck. This work was purchased directly from the artist in 1896 by the South Kensington Museum of London and is now kept at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

It was not rare for Medardo to mutilate works he had created previously and, to the contrary, it became ever more frequent and decisive over the years. Generally these were operations resulting from his desire to attenuate the descriptiveness of the image – as in the case of the “Enfant au sein”, which was modeled in 1889 and reduced in later versions to the detail of the baby nursing. However, it can also be said that the remakes and constant revisitations of previous works by the sculptor, which continued even after 1906, gave origin to entirely new works. The primitive sensation is reworked through the use of patinas, especially frequent in his waxworks, cuts, and the amalgamation of different materials and techniques. One of the many examples are: “Bambino alle cucine economiche”, which over time lost its volumetric mass and became an extremely thin lamina.

Among the many exceptional works and rarities that will be shown at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino (10 September - 28 November 2004), previously at the MART of Rovereto until 22 August 2004, are the waxwork depicting the “Aetas aurea” which reemerged on the market only a year ago and belongs to Rosso’s first period; the work “Bambina che ride” from the Kamakura Gallery and never before brought to Italy; also a novelty for the Italian public is the beautiful “Uomo che legge” from the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art of Kobe, which was done in 1894 and is one of Medardo’s last waxworks; it will also be the absolute first showing of a terra-cruda from a private collection. It is tiny, conserved in a showcase with a portrait of Medardo’s friend “Gennaro Favai” and dated 1913-14.

Enrico Prampolini wrote in a review of the Roman Quadrennial which presented a retrospective of the artist’s works three years after his death: “Medardo Rosso not only opened a new horizon in sculpture but broke the enchantment of traditional plastic and its laws – shape and volume, material and statics – to venture into the unexplored realms of light and space, atmosphere and environment”.

These words remain topical in defining Rosso’s modernity, his international dimension, and his key role (explicit in this exhibition) in the advent of modern art. The exhibition will be accompanied by a Skira catalogue.


Medardo Rosso - origins of modern sculpture