Material, Light and Vision
Belgium is currently offering, at the Gent Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), an exhibition on the sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858-1928) entitled “Pushing the boundaries of materiality”. This worthwhile cultural event brings together an impressive body of works, from collections all over Europe, and especially from the “Museo Medardo Rosso” of Barzio, as well as photos taken by the same author, which make up an integral part of his work.
The conversation, 1903
The title of the exhibition focuses on a peculiar and unique characteristic of his style, the dematerialization of forms, “corroded” by light. His figures, in fact, do not have smooth and compact surfaces but rather a “vibrating” feel. More specifically, they lack clear and precise contours. His formal research is aimed at nullifying the boundaries between space and figure. The modelling therefore becomes extremely soft, dug in by light. It is as if the light, which has become solid itself, scratches the surfaces. In this way, matter is shaped by light, as if it were trying to incorporate it and blend with the atmosphere that surrounds it.
Madame Noblet, 1926
This experimentation is aimed, as the author says, at making the audience forget the material. Its “vibrating” surfaces produce effects similar to those of the “stain” painting that was being experimented in those years by the Macchiaioli before, and the Impressionists later, and was a step ahead of futurist sculptor experiments.
The artist’s interactions with photography are also interesting. His sculptures offer an evanescent modelling, often conjuring up a vision of blurred photographs, damaged by too much light. Rosso also took photographs of his works, making these a corollary that was not secondary to his art. In fact, the photos carried out the role of a possible reading into his work, and defining the point of view that he considered most suitable for his work. The artist understood that the sculpture and its vision are closely linked, that one cannot exist without the other. This is why and how photographs complement his work as a sculptor – he creates the statue and takes the picture, the Sculpture and the Vision, in short. And it is this interaction with the vision – or perhaps the viewpoint – that also explains the bold angles or the fusion of the figure with the base.
Enfant au sein, 1890-95
Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the materials used are extremely ductile. He certainly uses bronze, but also the wax and plaster were quite congenial to his style.
Rosso’s modern approach regards not only the style but also the subjects. His sculptures depict ordinary or marginalized people, the new themes of contemporary art – not the gods, the great illustrious men or the scenes of the myth but the new humanity that was emerging, often portrayed in anti-heroic actions. This also affects a true naturalistic attention in the analysis of the subjects, however also combining a clear introspection of the psychology of the characters and personalities.
Child in the sun, 1891-92
Young rascal, 1895-1901
In conclusion, we find ourselves face to face with a very interesting artist who revolutionized the traditional language of sculptures, due to his chosen themes, style and use of materials. The beginning of his activity coincides with a moment of crisis of the figurative arts. In fact, starting in the mid-1800s, a lively debate was underway regarding the renewal of subjects and formal language.
We believe that the importance of his work lies entirely in this question: can works of art exist per se, or are they unable to exist without an observer looking at them? Medardo had understood this, and wanted us to be aware of this question as well.