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On seeing Liz Glynn’s exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, I thought of it as Rodin remixed. Encountering the first large, bronze figure, even before reading the press release, I sensed Auguste Rodin. Glynn’s work keeps that signature realism and physicality — so charismatic and yet so repulsive — that Rodin employed towards the end of the 19th century. Yet Glynn’s bodies are more wretched, featuring staggered flesh, agonized figuration, twisted physiques. She got here by making molds of posthumously cast bronze sculptures by Rodin that live in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s collection. Along with eight other sculptors, she recombined pieces cast from the original sculptures with her own accumulations of plaster and oil clay. The results are Frankensteinian. There are misplaced limbs and torsos so torqued they look like they were handled by a curious child.
At Paula Cooper, eight sculptures stand in a loose ring (with a selection of small works on a nearby table), and each is slightly pathetic. They have claw-like hands or, for example, in “Untitled (Burgher with extended arm)” (2014), an extended appendage that’s a weighty burden. There’s a head poking out of the back of “Untitled (after Shade)” (2014), and in “Untitled (after Thinker)” (2014), there’s a broken stump where a foot should be and an extra hand on the character’s thigh, as if it were left for a moment and then forgotten by the sculptor. The figures loom tall. They are big enough that, despite the deliberate flouting of balance and symmetry, they don’t exactly evoke pity. It’s more curiosity as I circle each one, trying to understand how this body hangs together.
If there were an artist whose oeuvre more merited this type of reinterpretation right now, I have no idea who it would be. Rodin’s work has long existed as a statement on what figurative sculpture is supposed to look like: stridently evocative of human expression and greatness, agonized, and seemingly immortal. He broke from received tradition to do this, however. He brought a kind of Promethean fire that allowed him to uncouple the story of humanity — as interpreted through sculpture — from the narratives of the gods of antiquity. In divorcing the human form from mythology and allegory, Rodin helped forward the argument that we could make our own dramas. Tragedy became the raw, dramatically posed Adam in bronze, whose head seeking rest on its own shoulder is forever held in that moment of seeking. A century after his death, it seems that every major museum I’ve been to has a Rodin in its courtyard or sculpture court.
Glynn made me think about this history, alongside the pliability of the body — how it can and occasionally does transform to sprout unexpected limbs and organs. This physical possibility is a potent well from which to draw when constructing our tragedies, histories, comedies, and dramas. There’s both power and fragility in the potential to mutate, and Glynn has made this interrelation of might and vulnerability manifest in her ragtag, broken bodies. As Mary Shelley’s story shows, we like to create our own monsters, believing that because we can make them, we’re therefore also able to control them.
Liz Glynn continues at Paula Cooper Gallery (534 W 21st Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through February 11.