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The Making of Rodin, Tate Modern Review

In truth, I was so excited to be actually going inside the doors of Tate Modern, the reason for my visit was almost incidental. But I am thrilled to report this show is well worth the trip, regardless of the strangeness of the circumstances. It doesn't have the breathtaking, polished awe of the Rodin exhibition at the British Museum a few years ago but the rough-hewn, 'work in progress' feel of these plaster casts - both monumental and tiny - have an immediacy and yes, modernity, all of their own. The marble Kiss outside the exhibition doors (on loan from Tate Britain) almost seems to belong to another show.

The first piece in the exhibition proper is a bronze statue of a soldier, created in 1877. Critical opinion determined it was simply too lifelike, too realistic not to have been cast from the subject's body. Rodin was accused of being a cheat. Hugely offended, the allegations had a lasting impact and he moved away from hyper-realistic classical scultpure.

With this in mind, you enter the huge, light-filled 'studio' space, loosely inspired by Rodin's own exhibition in the Place de l'Alma in 1900. The giant Thinker, a pot-bellied Balzac, an empty dressing gown hanging ghostly; heads, torsos, feet, hands, the scale is fabulous. And they are almost entirely made of plaster. You can see the marks, the joins, how they were enlarged and reproduced with this everyday, quick-drying material. The father of modern sculpture? Kids will totally get why he has earned this title.

A side gallery has a series of watercolour nudes - little ones may prefer to be wowed by the main event but do have a look - I found the fluid erotism incredibly beautiful.

On to the women in his life - and there were many. The long-suffering Rose Beuret is in the background but it is the actor and dancer Otha Hisa, the artistocratic Helene Von Nostitz and the artist Camille Claudel whose faces gaze at us.

Faces/hands/dismembered bodies are a big part of the studio process and Rodin was fascinated by the fragmentary nature of classical sculpture. Kids will enjoy finding individual hands used in larger works - and seeing the marks and seams of how they fitted together. Yes, these are iconic sculptural pieces but the fact you are looking at them created in light plaster makes the process much more understandable. There is a creepy display cabinet of tiny limbs that Rodin referred to as abattis (giblets) that has something of the feel of discarded toy arms in a playroom. This mix and match is playfully employed when he starts modelling inside ancient terracotta pots he has collected. There is a rather disapproving commentary provided - naughty Rodin for appropriating and destroying ancient artefacts - but the juxtaposition is fun and will appeal to children.

Above all this is a show about process - how this extraordinary genius, and his team - worked, re-worked, enlarged, pieced together to create iconic sculptures. They should sell clay and plaster kits in the shop. Be inspired to get modelling by a master.

Tickets: £18 adults, £5 ages 12–18, under 12s free.

Emily Turner, 11 May 2021


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