Friday, November 15

The Artist’s Hand


Tuesday, January 7, 1997

Eyes are not the only windows to the soul. Auguste Rodin’s
studies (and subsequent works) of the human hand prove that it has
a language all its own.By Kristin Fiore

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Hands rival the face as the most expressive part of the human
body. They are taken in marriage, given in need, and have the
problems of the world placed in them.

Maybe that’s why artists as visionary and diverse as Alfred
Stieglitz and Auguste Rodin chose to focus on them. While Stieglitz
studied the hands and gestures of his wife, Georgia O’Keefe, Rodin
sculpted everything from the hand of God to an anonymous clenched
fist.

In an intimate two-room exhibit that runs through March 2, The
Los Angeles County Museum of Art explores Rodin’s passion for the
unique dramatic power of the human hand.

The small scale of the exhibit, both in size and scope, does not
even begin to paint a complete portrait of Rodin’s life or art, but
that was never its intention. Its purpose is to hone in on a
fascinating element of Rodin’s work and explore it in reasonable
depth ­ and in this, it succeeds.

Though the exhibit assumes the viewer is somewhat familiar with
Rodin’s life and art, it is not difficult to enjoy the works
without more than the background provided. What the exhibit lacks
in comprehensiveness it makes up for in intimacy, accessibility and
clarity of focus. And for every missing monument like "Thinker" or
"Gates of Hell," there is a poignant "The Kiss" or "The Hand of
God."

In fact, those are two of the show’s highlights. "The Kiss,"
Rodin’s masterpiece of the the ill-fated lovers whose famous story
is recounted by Dante, dominates one room. Though it is one of the
few sculptures that feature full bodies, the hands of the forbidden
couple expose their passion and sensuality while their faces remain
largely hidden.

"The Kiss" is complimented by "The Spirit of War," one of a
two-piece set called "The Call to Arms." This rousing work features
a clench-fisted, helmetted angel with arms outstretched over a
dying man. It was rejected as a monument to commemorate the
Franco-Prussian War because its violent content would not reassure
the French. Nonetheless, it embodies the steel will and endurance
of the national spirit more than violence.

"The Hand of God," the centerpiece of the first room, blends the
tenderness of "The Kiss" with the transcendence of "The Call to
Arms." It also likens the creative forces and love of the artist to
those of God.

In God’s colossal but gentle hand said to be modeled after
Rodin’s, a diminutive man and woman curl around each other as
though about to be born. Their curves mirror the cradle of their
creator’s hand, which is still carving them from rock. Though the
couple is not yet fully formed, their arms and hands mingle around
each other, revealing their intimacy and weakness in comparison to
the bodiless, faceless power of their creator.

There are a few more full-body renderings that join these three,
but most of the exhibit is devoted to the hand cut from the body at
the wrist. Though these sculptures are not as moving, they impart
an amazing amount of feeling, both physical and mental.

Rodin sculpted fists, clenching and grasping hands, "piano
hands" and a variety of contorted positions that you can actually
feel when you look at them. Their fingers impart grace or pain,
uncertainty or confidence, tenderness or anger. Most of these
smaller sculptures are collected in a cabinet that allow you to
compare them. Only then do you realize the numerous possibilities
and expressions at the hand’s disposal.

The entire exhibit can be well explored in an hour, leaving
plenty of time to meander through the museum’s permanent
collections and still beat the traffic home. Not to mention that it
is infinitely easier on the mind and feet than a 10-room, 300-work
extravaganza on an artist.

ART: "The Hands of Rodin" is on view through March 2 at The L.A.
County Museum of Art. Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and
students. Call (213) 857-6000 for hours and additional
information.Los Angeles County Museum of Art

"Study for Hand from the Tomb" is a Rodin sculpture on view at
The L.A. County Museum of Art’s "The Hands of Rodin."Los Angeles
County Museum of Art

"The Spirit of War," (long rejected as a French memorial to the
Franco-Prussian War), symbolizes strength.Los Angeles County Museum
of Art

Rodin’s "The Cathedral" was inspired by the grace of gothic
churches.

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