At 25 years old, Medardo Rosso (1858–1928) was expelled from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, where he studied sculpture, for punching another student in a heated argument over the school’s traditional teaching methods. While this ended Rosso’s formal artistic training, it did not end his penchant to challenge the long-established standards of his field.
A lifetime of Rosso’s curiosities and creative genius can be found at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA). CIMA’s installation of his sculptures, experimental photography, and drawings reveal Rosso’s exceptional range and radical approach to his process, materiality, and form.
Present in all of Rosso’s sculptures—as well as his drawings and photographs—is the depiction of ordinary people and their surroundings, offering a glimpse of modern urban life. Ecce puer (Behold the child) captures the fleeting moment of a young boy revealing his face though a sheer curtain. The irregular surface of the transparent wax over plaster captures the light in a way that allows the delicate face to emerge. Rosso believed that there was an ideal vantage point to viewing all of his sculptures—the perfect angle where light and shadows would intersect, and where the subject, that was lost within the material, would reveal itself.
Rosso did not intend for his sculptures to be viewed in the round, rather, from this ideal angle, a concept he obsessed over and investigated until the end of this life. In a way, his sculptures seem to hover between the second and third dimension, never fully committing to either. Rosso’s primary tool for capturing the perfect perspective in his sculptures was the camera. Unlike other sculptors, who used photography to document their work, Rosso used photography to investigate his sculptures, doing so compulsively —taking pictures of pictures of pictures—cropping, blurring, increasing highlights and shadows, scratching the paper—until the perfect images was created.
This photograph of Ecce Puer, taken by Rosso, is one of a series CIMA has on display, all with slight variations. One might imagine this photo—not the sculpture—is Rosso’s ideal version of the piece, as he can capture and manipulate the best portion of his sculpture through the lens of a camera.
Completing the installation at CIMA is a comprehensive group—30 in total—of Rosso’s drawings that are shown together for the first time. Like his sculptures and photographs, Rosso’s drawings investigate light and shadows, embody the ordinary life, and explore the potential of the medium. It was refreshing to see that these drawings were totally separate entities from his sculptures; none served as preparatory sketches, instead all were individual works of finalized art. Attention is paid to the mark making as well as the surface, as Rosso often incorporated found materials, such as envelops and paper scraps to draw upon.
Each line or smudge represents space, whether it is positive or negative, in light or in darkness. In many drawings, one can see more pencil and paper than image. In others, like Cheval qui monta la route (Horse going up the street), once part of the image is understood the rest unveils itself—a “trick” also found in his sculptures.
Once you see the triangle in the upper right hand corner the back of a horse’s ear, you find yourself sitting upon a carriage traveling down a busy street.
Rosso’s innovative approach to each of his mediums, and unprecedented subject matter of ordinary people and moments stolen from modern urban life, set him apart from his contemporaries and forged the way for modern art. Rosso once said, “I am working for the future artists,” and the thoughtful exhibition at CIMA validates his word.
The exhibition Medardo Rosso runs through June 27, 2015. CIMA is open for guided tours with its Fellows on Fridays and Saturdays at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm.
—Kate Robinson, Bookstore Manager