A strange exhibition on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska at the Musée national d’Art moderne

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915)
Woman Sitting, 1914
Marble - 48 x 34.5 x 28 cm
Paris, Musée national d’Art moderne
Photo : RMN

24/8/09 – Exhibition – Paris, Musée national d’Art moderne – Of the 23 sculptures presented at the Centre Pompidou in the exhibition of works by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska belonging to the collections of the Musée national d’Art modern, only five are authentic. The others, as expressed indignantly by Vincent Noce and rightly so, in an article on 31 July, are copies, moulds or late editions. The fact they were donated to the museum does not justify their being exhibited almost as originals. Not many visitors are able to understand, from just reading the arcane signs, that they are looking at objects never before seen by the sculptor himself.

And yet Henri Gaudier-Brezska, who died at only 23 in the trenches of WWI in1915, paid special attention to the quality of his works. This was particularly the case for his marbles which he carved himself and polished with exceptional care, as shown by Samson and Delilah (1913) and Woman Sitting (ill.). To dare present in the same retrospective Heads of Children, a mediocre copy of “reconstituted stone” produced in 1964 from a work dating from 1915 is an insult to the artist. Not to mention Torso I from 1913 of “epoxy resin” edited in 1976 ! The original is held at the Tate.

If these copies really had to be presented, for pedagogical more than artistic purposes, they should at least have been separated from the authentic works and their ambiguous status pointed out. The catalogue does not clearly state the problem, simply recalling the reticence of some people when they were first donated to the museum.
However, we would like to point out that the forty or so drawings, the artist’s three sketchbooks and the five authentic sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brezska nonetheless justify a visit to this exhibition. While at the Louvre a copy is displayed mixed in with old clocks (see our editorial in French), this show once again raises the question of a curator’s responsibility towards museum visitors but also towards the artist’s memory. This is indeed not a lone incidence. Vincent Noce reminds us in his article that Beaubourg had already displayed iron moulds of sculptures by Gonzalez, produced by his family after he died. There is also the example of the bronzes executed after the death of Degas from his waxes or of Daumier and his terracottas, after he died, both seen in various museums. They may reach record-breaking prices at auction but that does not make them authentic works by the artists.

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 24 août 2009


We received an answer of the curators of the exhibition. We will put it on line pretty soon.

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