Rodin sculptures meet Mapplethorpe photos in Paris art show

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[April 14, 2014]  By Johnny Cotton

PARIS (Reuters) A new exhibition exploring connections between beloved French sculptor August Rodin and controversial U.S. photographer Robert Mapplethorpe has brought a hint of seedy 1980s New York to the heart of Paris.

Born in different centuries and on opposite sides of the Atlantic, the choice to juxtapose the two artists may at first appear far-fetched.

Much of Mapplethorpe's work includes monochrome nudes of male models  often his lovers  while Rodin is celebrated as a pioneering modern sculptor of the second half of the 19th Century whose masterpieces include "The Thinker" and "The Kiss."

Despite the artists' differences, exhibition curator Helene Pinet said there were valid reasons for bringing the two together under one roof in a show that has just opened at the Musee Rodin.

"We put them together because they were both passionate about the human body," Pinet told Reuters TV. "Both of them expressed it, one in photography and the other in sculpture, and as it happens they developed a common vocabulary."

The similarity of form is striking. Echoes of Rodin's celebrated "The Walking Man"  which lacks arms and a head  are found in Mapplethorpe's study "Michael Reed," which presents a man walking with his arms and head shrouded in shadow.

Pinet stressed that Mapplethorpe never was known to have talked about Rodin, an early champion of photography and an avid collector.

But with a classical education and a good friend who was a curator at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, home to an important Rodin collection, he must have been aware of the sculptor, she said.

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Though the relationship is clear, the differences are also striking.

"Mapplethorpe is a photographer who is obsessed with symmetry, geometry, he takes charge of absolutely everything, the light, nothing is improvised in his works," Pinet said.

"With Rodin it's the exact opposite, straight away there's something very sensual. He models his works, he works in clay, and he does it with experimentation," she added.

The creative layout of the exhibit, with Rodin's sculptures encased in clear glass cabinets interspersed with Mapplethorpe's photos, encourages viewers to see how two artists represent the human form in similar yet contrasting ways.

The American's works have often courted controversy, thanks to their explicit representation of sexuality and race. Pinet said that Rodin, too, was criticized by the artistic establishment for the realism of his sculptures.

Rodin and Mapplethorpe, one straight and one gay, shared an artistic interest in sexuality, which was also reflected in colorful private lives. Mapplethorpe had numerous relationships with his models, as did Rodin.

The exhibition, which runs through September 21, takes place at the same time as a more far-reaching Mapplethorpe retrospective at Paris's Grand Palais. Both benefit from loans from the Robert Mapplethorpe collection.

(Editing by Alexandria Sage and Angus MacSwan)

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