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“Young people, you who wish to be the celebrants of beauty, it may please you to find the essence of long experience here.”
These words – the opening line of Rodin’s artistic testament – could also feature on the pediment of his museum; it was essentially with young artists in mind that the sculptor, idolized throughout Europe, determinedly pursued his project for a museum dedicated to his work. Rodin was not given to making speeches or lecturing; his aim was to exhibit. Rather than offering to teach the young sculptors who flocked to his studio around 1900, he gave them an opportunity to work with him.
Exhibiting sculpture, giving it its rightful place, allowing the public to fully appreciate this particular way of apprehending the world was, and still is, the goal of the Musée Rodin, of its scientific and cultural policy, and even of its business model. In our modern age of dematerialized images and virtual or “augmented” reality, we tend to neglect direct confrontation with material objects and forms. By its very nature, sculpture cannot be reduced to an image alone: it takes time to appreciate its various facets, to observe it in changing lights... Whether it bears the marks of the sculptor’s hand or the traces of his research into volume, sculpture is essentially format, material, mass, color... Perhaps today’s viewer needs such confrontations of scale, tangible appearances and palpable objects to finally stop and look, recover an awareness of the self and of its physical limits in real space.
So it was important that the perceptible reality of sculpture should be at the heart of the renovation of the Hôtel Biron, a project initiated in early 2012. The need to reinforce the structure of this overburdened 18th-century building and adapt it to current technical standards gave us an opportunity to restore the place in which Rodin himself had chosen to present his work. My priority was to restore a warm, intimate and changing lighting, and to create an atmosphere that would encourage the visitor’s personal encounter with the objects.
It was sculpture – the assertion of its reality, its poetry, its history and its modernity – that guided our decisions with regard to the renovation project. We also endeavored to respect the link between Rodin and the building as he knew it, to maintain the interaction between the galleries and the garden, to preserve the play of natural light. The discreet museum design invites visitors on a tour combining a chronological and a thematic approach, continued in the peaceful atmosphere of the garden.
The guiding principle behind our visitor policy is to enable the public to discover, or get a clearer grasp of, the art of sculpture. This is reflected in the museum’s material accessibility, visitor assistance, wall labels… and new outreach tools (audio guides, digital outreach…). A deliberate effort has been made to attract priority groups (the disability/social sectors…), while our admission pricing policy is designed to ensure that the museum remains affordable to as many visitors as possible.
This huge undertaking would not have been possible without support from the State and close cooperation with the “Direction Générale des Patrimoines” (General Heritage Department). It was also dependent on the commitment of our sponsors, especially the Cantor Foundation: our close ties with Iris and B. Gerald Cantor date back many years, and are reflected today by the Foundation’s extraordinary generosity. The renovation project also led us to create new connections, such as that with the “Fondation Ville et Patrimoine” (City and Heritage Foundation). I would therefore like to take this opportunity to extend my grateful thanks to all the museum’s partners.
Sculpture was at the heart of Rodin’s project for a museum, and sculpture is at the heart of the new Musée Rodin.
Director of the Musée Rodin