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Bye-bye Rodin? Fresh take on sculpture at Paris museum

Paris — The Orsay museum in Paris this week takes a fresh look at the morphing of modern sculpture — a decade from 1905 to the outbreak of World War I when a wave of sculptors challenged celebrity artist Auguste Rodin.

Titled "Leaving Rodin behind?" the show, which opened Wednesday, brings together 120 pieces from some of the biggest US and European museums to highlight the lesser-known names of the time who reshaped the art. Among works which next travel to Madrid are those of Maillol, Bourdelle, Zadkine, Lehmbruck and Nadelman.

"It’s a period at the cusp of two eras that was a time of enormous change," curator Catherine Chevillot told AFP.

"Some see it as a prelude to modern art, others as a prolongation of the 19th century, but it’s neither really, it is a time warp in the history of sculpture."

In the decade spanning 1905-1914, Paris was a hub of new ideas and experimentation, attracting crowds of artists, many of them fleeing pogroms, who came from Germany, Romania, Russia, Poland, Spain and elsewhere.

"And they all had one thing in common — their opposition to Rodin," Chevillot said.

The artist best known for his monumental "Thinker" was "venerated for giving new life to sculpture but his hyper-naturalist form was seen as being out of date."

Fauvism and Cubism at the time were considered movements in painting but bit by bit as artists flocked to Paris, sculpture morphed from the highly expressionist sinewy works of Rodin to leaner meaner geometric lines and shapes.

In 1904, Casanovas, Brancusi, Picasso and Nadelman set up house in Paris, and in 1906 Modigliani arrived to be followed the next year by Archipenko. In 1909 Zadkine showed up, and later Lehmbruck, to name but a few.

Many of the artists on view at the Orsay exhibit were heavily influenced by Rodin for a time and the show looks at his influence before change came in 1905, when Bourdelle, Hoetger and Maillol rethought volume and structure.

Aristide Maillol’s curled and non-expressive "La Mediterranee" — a contrast to Rodin’s highly expressive figures — when shown in 1905 "was a sign that things were changing", the curator said.

As the years went by until Rodin’s death in 1917, the sculptors at work looked at volume in a new way, moving towards geometric forms and architectural lines.

After the war, said Chevillot, sculpture branched out into an "organic" style to be favoured later by the likes of Brancusi, Arp or Henry Moore, and a more expressionist school practised by Bourdelle and Giacometti.

The show runs until May 31. (www.musee-orsay.fr)

Fabienne Faur/AFP/Expatica