james debate
james debate

Friday 30 October 2009

In addition to the uniquely interesting Anish Kapoor exhibition, the Royal Academy of Arts is also hosting "Wild Things", an exhibition bringing together the sculptures of three artists, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who all come from very different backgrounds, but explore similar themes of sex, fertility and the human condition.

wild things

Jacob Epstein was a New York born Jewish artist who is recognised as a pioneer of modern sculpture, Eric Gill was a very religious man who strangely attempted to consolidate his faith with extremely explicit erotic sculptures, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was a French sculptor who moved to London and has a large body of work, despite dying at a tragically young age.

The three were linked during life, with Epstein having met both, and indeed heavily inspired the work of Gaudier. This exhibition largely explores the development of their work and the world's reaction to it. It makes for a strangely interesting narrative to follow through the exhibition and helps put each entry in a perspective beyond what meets the eye.

Even aside from this, the quality is pretty high throughout. I find myself less interested in Gill's vaguely uneven explorations of repressed sexuality, but Gaudier and especially Epstein were very talented sculptors. One can't help but feel that Gaudier would have amounted to even more had he lived longer.

However, the real centrepiece of the exhibition is "the Rock Drill" by Epstein (pictured), a striking piece of art that appears in two forms, with a reconstruction of how he originally put the sculpture together, and the torso that remains of the real thing (Epstein hacked off its limbs to make a statement about the horrors of World War I). This sculpture was pioneering, not only for its depiction of a mechanical man (way back in 1915 this was), but also for its integration of a real rock drill, the first time a sculptor had used a real ready made object as part of a larger sculpture.

A very interesting exhibition, but to be honest there are few pieces other than the Rock Drill that really demand to be seen, and all the interesting backstory about the artists can be found in books or online anyway.

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