Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Beauty and Power: Renaissance & Baroque Sculpture from the Peter Marino Collection

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Huntington Library

One of my goals for the New Year is to write blog posts in a timelier manner; like attempt to write about shows before they close.  That being said, I have one more post on an LA exhibition that has already closed.  Opps.

Christopher Knight was critical of the show, mostly because it’s a collector’s show.  Regardless of the quality, or significance of the works in the show (the Huntington proclaimed the collection is, “one of the finest private collections of French and Italian bronze sculptures”), the education that supplemented the show justified it completely in my mind.  The Huntington’s decision to host this traveling show fits its own collections and programming.  Several Huntington bronzes and a whole room of books from the library supplemented the show.

Let’s talk about this.

My favorite thing about collector shows is to compare how the art is shown in the museum to how the collector presents the art in their own home, please reference above image.  (And let me remind you once again of Lynda).  Marino is a designer so he’s got taste, I don’t know if it’s good taste, but he has taste.  In LA, Marino’s taste is probably best known for the several designer boutiques his firm has designed over in Beverly Hills.

Leather daddy not included.

Marino’s treasure’s were displayed in rust-colored rooms and arranged in an obviously academic way.  The exhibition read like an intro to art history text book full of bold terms: Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo. Some of the wall panels verged on insulting basic, one called Florence, Rome and Paris, the “three great European artistic centers of the age.”  Seems like a very large statement to make, Europe has many artistic centers after all, and the “age” they refer to was several hundred years long…

Another wallpanel addressed the topic of collecting, and included a list of famous collectors of bronzes: the Medici grand dukes, Ferdinand II of Prussia, Henry Prince of Wales, Louis XIV, Prince Johann Adam Andreas I Von Lichtenstein, William Beckford, John Pierpont Morgan, and Henry E Huntington — oh hey!  Well there’s a nice way of tying the show in to the host institution.

Does Marino favor muscular men?

What motivated these rich guys to collection bronzes?  Prestige? A way to demonstrate their wealth and power?  Marino’s motivations are slightly different when we examine what exactly he collects.   I honestly think Marino collects what he likes, and what he likes is muscular naked men.  Let’s consider the ratio of bronze female figures to bronze male figures in the exhibition.  There were only 10 naked bronze ladies, while there were 32 sexy bronze men.

River Tiber comes in large and extra-large.

The Huntington works in the show helped to illustrate key concepts.  One concept was that sculptures where cast many multiple times, and sometimes in varying sizes.  The Huntington placed a Hercules and Anteanus after Stefano Maderno from Marino’s collection across from a Hercules and Anteanus after Stefano Maderno from the Huntington’s collection.  Each collection (Marino and Huntington) also has a pair of river gods; the Tibers and Niles differed not just in size but also in sublet details, which were pointed out for the viewer.

My hand cast in bronze, not really.

The last room focused on the source of stories, the process of designing sculptures, and the casting process.  Volumes from the Huntington’s collection were opened to reveal sketches of the very same actualized works in the previous rooms.  There was also a video on the lost wax technique, and even a bronze hand which you were allowed to touch.  Very hands-on.

– H.I.

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