In 2014, 22-year-old Mallory Mortillaro, who’d recently graduated with an art history degree, was hired as an archivist at the borough hall of Madison, New Jersey, a municipality of 16,000 people. In the second floor meeting room, she discovered, sitting innocuously in a corner, a genuine Rodin: a bust of Napoleon Bonaparte, carved of marble and weighing 700 pounds. “A. Rodin,” the signature read, faint and nearly lost to time. It’d gone so unnoticed for the past 80 years that its accompanying pedestal was often leaned on during meetings.
After searching through the building’s archives, Mortillaro consulted the Paris-based Comité Auguste Rodin, the leading authority on Rodin. They had, in their collection, a photo of Rodin with the bust. In 2015, Rodin expert Jerome Le Blay traveled to Madison to authenticate the piece; even before doing so, he knew the bust was genuine at first glance.
The piece dates back to 1908; engraved with “Napoleon enveloppé dans ses réves” (“Napoleon wrapped in his dreams”), it features the military leader cloaked in swaths of billowy fabric and is worth between $4 and $12 million. As of this month, it’s on its way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it will be donated on an extended loan in commemoration of the centenary of the artist’s death in November.
Madison’s borough hall, officially named the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building, was built by heiress Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge and filled with art from her private collection. The building is a tribute to her son, Marcellus Hartley Dodge Jr., who died in a car accident in 1930. At the time, there were no official records indicating any inclusion of the Rodin piece.
After further digging, Mortillaro discovered that the bust was originally commissioned in 1904 by a prominent collector — the wife of New York lawyer John Woodruff Simpson — who eventually stopped communicating with Rodin, perhaps due to the length of time the piece took to complete. Her colleague, the tobacco magnate Thomas Fortune Ryan, later purchased the piece in Paris; he eventually loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was displayed for over 10 years. When Ryan passed away, Dodge purchased the bust at an auction in 1933.
While the bust’s authenticity was confirmed two years ago, it has been kept a secret by the Hartley Dodge Foundation until quite recently. Hidden-in-plain-sight stories are strange for their conclusion and even more for their implication — that an object you’ve overlooked is, potentially, a legitimate treasure.
I won’t bother you with talk about how obscenely decadent and out of touch the Frieze art fair is. And yet…
Curators Tahnee Ahtone, La Tanya S. Autry, Frederica Simmons, Dan Cameron, and Jeremy Dennis offered the public a window into their curatorial processes through the work they produced during their fellowships.
Who says tragedy has to be tragic? Co-presented with National Black Theatre, this fresh, Pulitzer-winning take on a classic centers Black joy and liberation.
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Jeremy Dennis presents an exhibition to offer insight into his curatorial process.
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Dan Cameron presents an email exhibition to offer insight into his curatorial process.
For the triennial’s eighth edition, work by more than 70 artists is featured in 12 exhibitions and a polyphonic program, installed at various locations throughout the German city.
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Frederica Simmons presents an email exhibition to offer insight into their curatorial process.
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, La Tanya S. Autry presents an exhibition to offer insight into her curatorial process.
This exhibition explores the work and short-but-impactful life of the groundbreaking ceramic artist. Now on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Tahnee Ahtone presents an email exhibition to offer insight into her curatorial process.
This week: Why does the internet hate Amber Heard? Will Congress recognize the Palestinian Nakba? And other urgent questions.
Artist Dan Jian makes the point that landscapes and memory are one and the same.