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Beyond Rodin: New Directions in Contemporary Figurative Sculpture

The Rye Arts Center, Rye New York
Curated by Bob Clyatt

Early in the summer of 2012, right outside the boundaries of “The City” with all it’s contemporary galleries, at the Rye Arts Center in Rye, New York, a collection of high-quality artworks curated by sculptor Bob Clyatt was presented to the world. Beyond Rodin: New Directions in Contemporary Figurative Sculpture is an exhibition of 19 U.S. based sculptors who are creating innovative works built on the foundations of classical training, but with applications that go beyond the display of virtuosity and into the realm of emotional expression and pathos that seems to elude so much contemporary art.

The New York Times covered this exhibition, but Bob is a good friend of TheGreatNude.tv, and we arranged for him to give us a tour of this wonderful exhibition that included artists Audrey Flack, Emil Alzamora, Sequoyah Aono, Deborah Baldizar, Joan Benefiel & Jeremy Leichman, Paige Bradley, Susan Clinard, Tricia Cline, Bob Clyatt, Sarah Coble, Carole Feuerman, Barney Hodes, Alex Kveton, Jedediah Morfit, Bret Reilly, Bernard Rowan, Susan Saladino, Judy Sigunick and Chris Smith.

This exhibition started two years ago when The Rye Arts Center asked me to curate a sculpture show, and I got interested because I was seeing so much quality figurative sculpture being created, and so little of it being shown. For 50 years, figurative sculpture had essentially been off-limits for the art world inner circles, taught in only a few institutions.

The good news is that in the last few years word seems to be out, and strong figurative work is starting to appear more consistently in major art fairs, high-visibility galleries and exhibitions. The 19 sculptors here are creating work that navigates, in my view, the crucial shoals of making contemporary figurative art. These sculptors aren’t the only ones getting it right – we could have filled a venue three times bigger – but the fact remains in figurative sculpture it’s easy to get it wrong.

First off, creating figurative sculpture well has a long learning curve – the anatomy takes years to seep in, the materials and processes themselves are complex. But getting to that point only gives you a technical foundation, and much work ends up looking like a pale rendition of sculpture already done so powerfully in centuries past.

While it may well be possible to forge ahead without a strong foundation and still make good art, my effort for this show has been to find people who are hitting on all those cylinders—strong anatomical and sculptural foundations and a strong source of Idea, masterfully realized. The resulting work connects to a deep place inside us, transforms the space around us, speaks from a focused center to our current and enduring concerns. And it does all this while innovating, giving us something we haven’t seen before. For me, this is the definition of great contemporary art.

– Bob Clyatt

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