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New Barnes show pairs the works of Rodin with those of contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer

Written by
Sarah Jordan

In art, as in love, sometimes the unlikeliest people make for the best matches. “Kiefer Rodin,” the latest special exhibit at the Barnes Foundation, pairs the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, known for sculptural masterpieces like The Thinker and The Kiss, with contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer, who’s made a name for himself with unflinching critiques of Germany’s dark role in history.

“At first, people are surprised at the pairing, but that’s a good thing,” says Cindy Kang, associate curator at the Barnes. “To see what resonates between the two artists and the themes they’re both working on makes a lot of sense.”

This exhibition began after the Rodin Museum in Paris thought to republish the sculptor’s 1914 book, Cathedrals of France, which served as a loving tribute to the French architecture that was bombed and obliterated during World War I. For the revamp, organizers of the project were looking for a contemporary artist to contribute to the new edition.

Enter Kiefer, who had been spending time in the storerooms of the Paris museum studying Rodin’s plaster casts for his own work. It was the natural choice. Kiefer, born in southwest Germany in 1945, has built a body of work that reflects his fascination with the themes of memory, destruction, architecture and history. His interest in exploring the past gels with Rodin’s appetite for nostalgia and his drive to keep history alive.

“Kiefer Rodin,” which opens on the 100th anniversary of Rodin’s death, shows the motivation of both art titans to play with process. “Rodin was experimental with materials—fabric, wood, plant materials—the way Kiefer is,” says Kang. “Rodin was never finished with his work. He was always working on pieces, recombining things and going back to old work. For him, art was an endless process never finished.” This is Kiefer’s bent too, with many of his works deteriorating and evolving with time as they shed chunks of paint or other debris.

Although both artists have mined the past in their work, Rodin’s pieces celebrate it while Kiefer’s confront it. Kiefer’s paintings, drawings and sculptures in this exhibition respond to Rodin and highlight the legendary sculptor’s modernistic impulses.

“Kiefer Rodin” is at the Barnes Foundation Nov 17–March 12. $30.

Image: Auguste Rodin, The Cry, c. 1898.  Plaster and nails; pointed for transfer to marble. 9 15/16 × 11 × 9 1/8 in. © Musée Rodin (photo by Christian Baraja).

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