Tuesday, August 08, 2017

My summers with Rodin

Washington, D.C., is so overflowing with American history that there's a monument to something or someone on practically every corner. The Smithsonian museums are so overflowing with history and culture and gift shops and art that some of it literally spills outside into the sunshine. And part of my annual summer pilgrimage to visit some D.C. friends and road-trip to their Rehoboth beach house is my visit to the sunken sculpture garden behind the relentlessly round Hirshhorn Museum, which houses what most people probably see as the oddest examples of Modern art. 

The sculpture garden sits more than a story below street level so it masks all the ambient street noise, but it positively hums with beauty and magic and some of the most delightful -- and delightfully odd -- art that waits there resolutely to nourish any soul. If you're in D.C. and want to visit my little sanctuary, enter from the Mall side and go immediately to your left -- the corner there is populated with the rough-hewn glories of August Rodin, including what is perhaps my favorite sculpture of all time: his mighty Burghers of Calais, which depicts six men walking to their martyrdom to save their city during the Hundred Years' War. The men are overcome with terror and anguish and resignation and peace all at once, and Rodin has sculpted their figures so masterfully that you see and understand their every emotion from your every angle. The piece is enormous in size and exaggerated in scale and almost primitive in its rendering, all of which invite you to approach it with your own perspectives, examine it with your own curiosities and appreciate it with your own conclusions. It's everyone's sculpture -- casts of it stand in museums and university campuses all over Europe and the United States, including a single figure from the piece who stands at the entrance of the University of Iowa's Boyd Law Building -- and it's my sculpture to admire and fear and share and visit summer after summer, year after year.

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