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From 9 September, several highlights from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s sculpture collection will be guests in the sculpture garden at the Erasmus Medical Center. In this location in the hospital, where the body is the primary focus, the five sculptures explore the strength and vulnerability of what it means to be human.
Artists have always been inspired by the human body and the emotions that make us human. Whether happy, sad, anxious or lost in thought, the sculptures reflect our lives. And vice versa, because if we allow our imagination free rein, we may recognise something of ourselves in these figures.
With a theatrical gesture or a quiet presence, the sculptures invite us to reflect on who we are and how we see and present ourselves.
While Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen undergoes a large-scale renovation and modernisation programme, part of the museum’s collection remains on view in neighbouring museums and institutions under the name ‘Boijmans Next Door’. The exhibition ‘Human Appearances – Strength & Vulnerability’ at the Erasmus MC is the sixth in a series of eleven exhibitions.
Human figures admitted to Erasmus MC
Four of the five human figures, all from the museum’s collection, will be sited in the hospital’s covered garden. The identity of the four sculptures will remain a secret until the opening. From today, the fifth sculpture, the iconic cast-iron giant ‘Grosse Geister (Figur Nr. 8)’ by artist Thomas Schütte, welcomes visitors at the RG 101H entrance (close to the atrium).
Aristide Maillol, ‘La Méditerranée’, 1902-1905
This figure symbolises the Mediterranean Sea. With her rounded forms and smooth skin, she is a model of tranquillity. Aristide Maillol’s numerous sculptures of women are a quest for timeless, harmonious forms. To achieve this, he abandoned the rules of anatomy and presented the parts of the body as geometric building blocks: the arms and legs are cylinders, the torso consists of two halved cones, and the head and hair comprise two conjoined spheres. Closer inspection reveals repeated triangles. The figure is not highly realistic and she lacks personal attributes. Her meditative attitude is primarily an invitation for us to take a moment for self-reflection.
Marcello Mascherini, ‘Nuda che ride’ (detail), 1953
The silhouette of this slender figure stands out from afar. Leaning on her right leg, she glances over her shoulder with a smile on her face. Is she flirting with an admirer? Or do the crossed arms suggest a private joke? We usually think of bronze as a hard, monumental material, but in the hands of the Italian sculptor Marcello Mascherini it has a lively quality. To create an elegant figure, the artist has played with the proportions: notice the extremely narrow ankles and feet, the remarkably small head and the generous buttocks. Her energy reverberates through her entire posture: a casual cheerfulness immortalised in bronze.
Auguste Rodin, ‘Pierre de Wissant (Bourgeois de Calais)’, 1885-1886
This figure surrenders with a dramatic arm gesture. The French artist Auguste Rodin was unrivalled in his ability to bring sculpture to life. Pierre de Wissant was one of the prominent citizens of the French coastal town of Calais who offered themselves up for execution in 1347. With this heroic act, they brought to an end the English siege of the town and saved the population from starvation. To commemorate this event, Rodin created a monument with six figures, each of which expresses a different emotion, from fear and despair to resignation. Rather than being placed on a high pedestal, the sculpture is presented at eye level. In this way, we do not look up to this hero but can empathise with him and his fate.
Charlotte van Pallandt, Sitting nude with apple, 1957 – 1959
This woman has taken a comfortable seat. Is she listening to us or is she supporting her head to close her eyes for a moment of rest? Although her face gives little away, her pose is realistic. Just look at the curvature of her back. Over a period of more than twenty years, Charlotte van Pallandt captured the spontaneous poses of her model Truus Trompert in small, rapidly modelled sculptures. This is one of the few enlarged versions. If you look closely, you can still see the artist’s thumbprints. With her rough skin, she may not be a paragon of beauty but she is all the more lifelike for it.
Thomas Schütte, Grosse Geister (Figur Nr. 8), 1997
From today, visitors arriving at the Erasmus Medical Center via the RG 101H entrance (near the atium) will be greeted by Thomas Schütte’s vast iconic ‘Grosse Geister (Figur Nr. 8)’. Like a friendly giant, this cast-iron figure has welcomed visitors at the entrance to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen for years. For his ‘Grosse Geister’ series, which can mean either ‘Large Ghosts’ or ‘Great Minds’, Schütte modelled the figures from a length of soft wax, turning it in a spiral to create a humanoid form. This figure is full of contradictions: it looks inflated, like the Michelin Man, but is actually hard and extremely heavy. He is simultaneously friendly and monstrous, impressive in height yet with a comical appearance. The ambiguous title also raises questions: is he a ghostly apparition or a tribute to human ingenuity?
Video with Dutch subtitles
‘A good neighbour is better than a distant friend. When the museum sought our cooperation, the committee was immediately enthusiastic, mainly because the exhibition features powerful figures that exude emotions that fit well within the walls of our hospital. You will recognise that immediately when you see the sculptures. We hope our patients and staff appreciate the exhibition and will find comfort or distraction in it.’
Prof. Dr Jan van Saase, internist Erasmus MC and member of the hospital’s art committee.
Sculpture being transported
Human figures in the collection
Several hundred of the three thousand sculptures in the museum’s collection consist solely of human figures: powerful bodies, broken bodies, hyperrealistic and abstract, heroes and anonymous figures by artists such as Giambologna, Salvador Dalí and Ossip Zadkine. Auguste Rodin is unrivalled in the expression of the human body in his ‘Pierre de Wissant’, a study for one of the standing figures in the ‘Burghers of Calais’, a group that commemorates the end of the siege of Calais. Another famous figure from the collection is ‘Seated Child’ by Duane Hanson: this surly looking boy holding a bar of chocolate is extremely lifelike and has confused many visitors.
Boijmans Next Door
Thanks to the Droom en Daad Foundation, part of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection will remain visible in Rotterdam during the museum’s extensive renovation and modernisation programme. As part of ‘Boijmans Next Door’, some five hundred masterpieces are featured in eleven exhibitions at eight neighbouring venues, where the works from Boijmans’ collection enter into a dialogue with those of the host locations, creating new and unexpected juxtapositions. This is the first time that so many of Rotterdam’s cultural institutions have entered into a long-term partnership to keep Boijmans’ collection visible. New exhibitions are planned at the Wereldmuseum, the Kunsthal, Museum Rotterdam, the Chabot Museum and the Maritime Museum in the second half of 2019 and in 2020.
Since May 2019, the museum is closed for essential renovations. In this transitional period, the museum is making its world-class collection available elsewhere in Rotterdam and further afield. In addition to the ‘Boijmans Next Door’ projects, the museum has also created travelling exhibitions for museums all around the world. And schoolchildren in Rotterdam are being introduced to real artworks from the collection in the project ‘Boijmans in the Classroom’. Meanwhile, the construction of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen continues apace. The world’s first publicly accessible art-storage facility will open at the beginning of 2021 and will safely house and display 151,000 artworks.