Bronze exhibition at Royal Academy shows its mettle

Trundholm sun chariot, Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the Royal Academy’s big autumn show simply called Bronze, 150 of the finest bronze works from Africa, Asia and Europe will come to London for a groundbreaking exhibition.

Powered by article titled “Bronze exhibition at Royal Academy shows its mettle” was written by Mark Brown, arts correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 25th June 2012 16.12 UTC

It was seeing a picture of the Chimera of Arezzo – the mythological lion and goat creature with a serpent’s tail – on the spine of a book that first got the six-year-old David Ekserdjian excited about bronze. The scholar and curator’s interest eventually resulted in what will be a landmark exhibition bringing together 150 works which span some 6,000 years.

In the Royal Academy’s big autumn show simply called Bronze, 150 of the finest bronze works from Africa, Asia and Europe will come to London for a groundbreaking exhibition.

“In terms of intellectual thrill the prospect is entrancing,” said Ekserdjian, professor of art history at Leicester university and a former editor of Apollo magazine. “There is nobody in the world who has seen all of these things in the show.”

Ekserdjian, who has curated the show with the Royal Academy’s Cecilia Treves, brought with him the book that inspired him as a child: CW Ceram’s popular history of archaeology, Gods, Graves and Scholars, originally published in 1949, featuring the Etruscan Chimera of Arezzo spread over its front, side and back. The spectacular bronze dated at around 400BC – which will be included the show – depicts a lion with a serpent’s tail and a second goat’s head sprouting out of the lion’s body. “I wondered what the hell was going on,” he said. “I remember being gripped by it.”

The exhibition will show that bronze is “truly a global art form and there are amazingly great things which have been done all over the world across time”.

The Royal Academy has managed to persuade institutions to lend some of their most highly regarded treasures, many leaving their native countries for the first time. The Nordic Trundholm sun chariot, which ranks, said Ekserdjian, as Denmark’s biggest national treasure, will be lent by the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Among the exhibition there will be remarkable works which have only recently been found, not least the severed head of King Seuthes III – dating from the early Hellenistic period – which was only discovered in a tomb in central Bulgaria eight years ago. “It is an outstanding work of art,” said Ekserdjian.

European Renaissance bronzes will also feature including, from Florence, Giovanni Francesco Rustici’s ensemble of St John the Baptist preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee from Florence. Ekserdjian said there would also be outstanding works from Asian and African countries including Cambodia and Nigeria. Almost half the 150 works in the show will be non-European.

He also promised that “not everything in the show is crunchingly, painfully serious – there are things which are fun as well”. Such a category might include a bronze sculpture by Jasper Johns of two Ballantine beer cans.

Other more comparatively modern works will include Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Brancusi’s Danaide from Tate Modern and Picasso’s Baboon and Young from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on which you can, by looking closely, see the toy cars that the artist “borrowed” from his son Claude.

The Royal Academy’s exhibitions director Kathleen Soriano said the show would explore the beauty and technique involved in the making of bronzes, and while the timing may be tempting fate, she said that in an Olympic year “it feels only right and faintly British that we should celebrate bronze”. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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