Works from the most famous name in modern sculpture have taken their places inside the exhibit halls of the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, waiting for the public to view them starting on Saturday when the doors open at 10 a.m.
“Rodin: Contemplation and Dream – Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Canter Collections” is the largest sculpture installation the museum has ever undertaken. It fills both main exhibition halls with 45 bronze pieces, both small and large, by Auguste Rodin. The French artist died 105 years ago and has long been celebrated as the greatest sculptor of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Many people, when they come to see this incredible exhibition here at the Polk Museum are going to be astonished that this work is right here in Lakeland, right here in Polk County,” said Alex Rich, the museum’s executive director and chief curator. “This is an incredible opportunity for everybody in our region to see sculptures that they will never see anywhere else. And certainly nowhere in the area.”
Rich said he has been working on bringing the exhibit to the museum for the last three years, talking with the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation of New York City, and the Votum Foundation, one of the exhibit’s main sponsors, along with Culture Builds Florida and Visit Central Florida. The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation is an exhibit partner.
“Auguste Rodin is arguably the most famous sculptor since Michelangelo,” Rich said. “Everyone knows Michelangelo’s David, I would say next to David, Rodin is well known for his really famous sculptures ‘The Thinker’ ‘The Gates of Hell,’ ‘The Three Shades.'”
While “The Thinker” sits and contemplates in its permanent garden home at the Musée Rodin in Paris, there is a tiny version of it included within one of the pieces. Rich challenges visitors to find it.
A study for “The Three Shades” is at The Polk Museum of Art, as is a small study for “The Gates of Hell,” which depicts a scene from the epic poem “Inferno,” a part of Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy.”
The largest and heaviest piece is “Claude Lorrain,” which stands on its pedestal near the exhibit’s main entrance and weighs in at 950 pounds. Several of the pieces depict nude men and women.
Rich said it has taken Matt Belcher, the museum’s preparator and design manager, an entire month to ready and place each piece. Each one was removed from its individual wooden shipping crate, gently carried off its shipping platform using a mechanical lift, and then placed on a specially built pedestal made just for the exhibit. Then they planned where to put each piece in the galleries to compliment each other and tell the full tale of Rodin’s masterful works. View the process here.
Rich said he isn’t sure how many people will wander through their galleries to view the bronze pieces, but he expects a lot of visitors starting Saturday until the exhibit closes on Oct. 30, just as they had for a Degas exhibit last year and the recent Highwaymen exhibit.
“What we always try to do is present artists and artworks that people will know, so it brings them in through the doors, and then artists that they can discover along the way,” Rich said. “But we know with an artist like Rodin — whose story is fascinating, whose career is fascinating, who tried to reach back into the styles of ancient Greek art to revive pathos and emotion in the human figure — we know in his story, a lot of people are going to come and spend a lot of time here and, hopefully, come back again and again.”
Admission to the museum is always free. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is closed on Mondays. It is currently closed Sundays until September 11, 2022. The Rodin exhibit will be on display until Oct. 30.