Rodin’s Gates of Hell

Auguste Rodin, Maquette for Gates of Hell, Bronze, On loan from the Collection of Iris Cantor

Auguste Rodin, Maquette for Gates of Hell, 1880, Bronze, On loan from the Collection of Iris Cantor, currently on view at The Phillips Collection

In 1880, the French government commissioned Auguste Rodin to sculpt a door for the entrance of a planned Museum of Decorative Arts. Rodin worked out his design in a number of preparatory drawings and three clay maquettes (small models used as studies). This bronze casting of the third maquette—now on loan to the Phillips from the Collection of Iris Cantor—is close in design to the full-scale version which stands at over 20 feet tall. Drawing inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy (1308)—a three-part epic that explores the author’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise—Rodin suspends hundreds of figures in an abyss that evokes Dante’s encounter with the tormented souls of the underworld.

In developing his visual language, Rodin drew upon the long tradition of gilded bronze church doors, specifically The Gates of Paradise (1425–1452) designed by Renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Baptistery in Florence. After working on The Gates of Hell for a decade, Rodin was forced to abandon the commission when the government announced new plans to build a train station on the site of the proposed museum. Rodin ultimately repurposed parts of the door as independent artworks, among them his famous sculptures The Thinker and The Kiss, both visible in this maquette—The Thinker at the top above the central pier and the enraptured lovers on the lower left side.

The Gates of Hell was never cast in bronze during Rodin’s lifetime. However, since his death and according to the artist’s wishes, several casts have been made, including one commissioned by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation.

Far left: The Gates of Hell, 1880-c. 1890, cast 1981, Bronze, Cantor Arts Center, Gift of B. Gerald Cantor Collection Left top and bottom: The Thinker, modeled 1880, reduced 1903, cast later, Bronze; The Kiss, modeled c. 1881–82, cast later, Bronze; North Carolina Museum of Art, Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation

Left: The Gates of Hell, 1880-c. 1890, cast 1981, Bronze, Cantor Arts Center, Gift of B. Gerald Cantor Collection; Right top and bottom: The Thinker, modeled 1880, reduced 1903, cast later, Bronze; The Kiss, modeled c. 1881–82, cast later, Bronze; North Carolina Museum of Art, Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation

Angela Bulloch: Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three (PART II)

On September 16, the Phillips unveiled a new sculpture by Angela Bulloch on the corner of 21st and Q Streets. We asked Angela a few questions about her artwork. Read Part I of the interview here.

Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three, 2018, Powder coated steel, Made possible with support from Susan and Dixon Butler, Nancy and Charles Clarvit, John and Gina Despres, A. Fenner Milton, Eric Richter, Harvey M. Ross, George Vradenburg and The Vradenburg Foundation

Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three, 2018, Powder coated steel, Made possible with support from Susan and Dixon Butler, Nancy and Charles Clarvit, John and Gina Despres, A. Fenner Milton, Eric Richter, Harvey M. Ross, George Vradenburg and The Vradenburg Foundation

How do you think Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Three Cyan fits with the Phillips? How did you choose these colors/this size for this commission?

The colors were chosen to contrast with the surrounding area. The color—cyan blue—is not only the opposite color of the orange bricks but it’s also an important color used often around Washington, DC. I’ve placed the lighter color on the underside of the sculpture for the first time with the plan that it would be illuminated from the ground up at night because I thought that would be a good artificial inversion. The sun will illuminate the sculpture from above during the day in the usual way.

How does your modern/minimalist sculpture change when placed in front of a brick house built in 1897? How does it interact with the surrounding area of Dupont Circle?

This work is neither a modern nor a minimal sculpture. The techniques used in its fabrication date the sculpture—it could not have been made like this before the 1990s, really. Aesthetically I think it fits in well with the surroundings—Dupont Circle or in front of a building made about 100 years prior to the technology used for its making. The contrast between the sculpture and the building behind it is deliberately sharp.

Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three at night

Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three at night

What do you want people to think/feel when they see your artwork?

I don’t like to prescribe people’s feelings, but when I look at the sculpture I think it looks alien, bold yet comfortably present, holding the corner as it does, and I cannot resist the temptation to ascribe human qualities to it despite the fact that it is anything but human. Although I think wishing to humanize blind objects reveals something more about me rather than the sculpture.

Much of your work incorporates time-based elements, such as shifting light patterns, sound, and interactive mechanisms. On the contrary, Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three is a static object. How do you envision audiences interacting with your sculpture at the Phillips?

Oh that’s not a question that I can answer. I have many thoughts but no statement . . . let’s ask the audience.

Angela Bulloch: Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three (PART I)

On September 16, the Phillips unveiled a new sculpture by Angela Bulloch on the corner of 21st and Q Streets. We asked Angela a few questions about her artwork. Stay tuned for Part II of the interview.

Angela Bulloch with her sculpture. Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three, 2018, Powder coated steel, Made possible with support from Susan and Dixon Butler, Nancy and Charles Clarvit, John and Gina Despres, A. Fenner Milton, Eric Richter, Harvey M. Ross, George Vradenburg and The Vradenburg Foundation

Angela Bulloch with her sculpture. Heavy Metal Stack: Fat Cyan Three, 2018, Powder coated steel, Made possible with support from Susan and Dixon Butler, Nancy and Charles Clarvit, John and Gina Despres, A. Fenner Milton, Eric Richter, Harvey M. Ross, George Vradenburg and The Vradenburg Foundation

You were born in Canada, studied in the UK at Goldsmiths College, and are now based in Berlin. Can you talk about what drew you on this trajectory and how it has impacted your work?

I was born in the middle of nowhere in Canada, a very remote and small place, and yet I always wanted to live in the city, where all the people and museums are and such. I had to wait until I was old enough to go and study at college and that was in London. From there it was easy to visit many other cities and I found Berlin exciting and possible to live in, for a whole combination of reasons. I continue to travel frequently, in all directions.

Your work is known for your exploration of mathematical, social, and aesthetic systems and structures alongside aesthetics. What appeals to you about how they intersect?

The interesting thing about systems is that they order your time, your life, the environment in such a way that the mistakes or anomalies jump out at you. When the pattern is broken you feel it. If the note is wrongly played on a musical score you instantly know about it. The ruptures are interesting.

You demonstrate extraordinary conceptual creativity in a wide variety of media, including sculpture, light, sound, and video installation. Have you always been interested in working in diverse media or have you found yourself organically exploring different materials?

I find it more interesting to work across or with various different media because then I can focus on the ideas or the dynamics of a situation rather than only on the media itself.

Tell us about your Stack series.

I think of them as the Rhombus series, referring to the four sided shapes or rhombi within the three dimensional rhomboid form, but, yes, some of them are stacks or the same forms stacked on top of one another that forms a stack. There is one group I have made that I call Totem Pillar works because the forms stand on top of one another in a stack or a totem and that Totem stands then on top of a pillar. The basic unit is a four sided shape – a rhombus.

How do you make them? What is your inspiration for these sculptures?

At first I conceive of them within the virtually real place inside a computer using 3D drawing programs. It’s easy to play around with forms inside a space like that right up until you try to actually make them. Then after that it becomes more complicated, the simple 3D drawings are converted into engineering files which have to be very precise and self-sustaining. The sculptures eventually have to stand up in the real world under conditions of gravity, so the drawings often need some adjustments at this point—a reality check of sorts. Then the material is cut and puzzled together, the surfaces are treated in many different ways, the base plate (the means of attachment to the ground) is considered and chosen appropriately for the environment where it will end up. This one here was made to stand outside in all weather and has been prepared for that.

Can you please describe this particular sculpture and its creation?

This one started with the context—I was asked to make a new sculpture specifically for the site outside The Phillips Collection, a commission. I tried out several versions and settled on a larger scale piece that holds the corner spot with more authority than a slimmer work that was the same height might have done.