by Scott Indrisek
Dr. David Ekserdjian wants you to forget what you think you know about bronze. As co-curator of “Casting Modernity,” a survey of 20th-century sculpture opening tonight and on view through June 7 at Mnuchin Gallery, he’s happy to serve up some surprises — like an encrusted bronze flashlight by Jasper Johns (1958) and a patinated bronze female silhouette from 1988, by Roy Lichtenstein. The project’s springboard was a 2012 exhibition that Ekserdjian helped organize at the Royal Academy in London. He was tapped by Robert Mnuchin and gallery partner Sukanya Rajaratnam, who had themselves found common inspiration for an all-bronze show in a hard-to-find Willem de Kooning work: 1972’s “Clamdigger,” a misshapen, life-size figure. That piece is included in “Casting Modernity,” posed across from the artist’s “Hostess,” a pair of grotesque lovers. “The 20th century was a period of radical change for all mediums, but also for bronze,” Rajaratnam said. “It was a great way to start with Rodin, who was in his time controversial, and end with someone like Bruce Nauman, who really turned all the traditional associations of bronze on their head.” (Nauman’s inclusion here is a 1996 cast phosphorous bronze chandelier of interconnected hands.)
There are some fascinating outliers included in the exhibition, such as Jeff Koons’s “Aqualung,” a somber cast of diving equipment that is refreshingly devoid of the artist’s trademark pop glitz. Ekserdjian himself is still finding strange “echoes and resonances, oppositions and differences” among the 30 works — like Germaine Richier’s 1946 “La Mante,” which he thinks must be a “visual parody” of Rodin’s 1880 “Thinker.” There are plenty of other connections to tease out here between Matisse and Picasso, Henry Moore and Henri Laurens. And then there’s my personal favorite: A sleekly alien bust by Constantin Brancusi from 1913, perched on an elegant limestone cube.
Ekserdjian is fond of the diversity in the show in terms of scale — with the “Miros and Johns and some of the Moores, you can get your nose in there, as well as stepping back,” he said. Those are countered by the larger works, like a 1997 Louise Bourgeois spider that lurks near the stairs on the second floor. “People most often see these outside,” Rajaratnam noted. “We tried to create a sense of menace by putting it indoors.” A smaller, but no less menacing, Bourgeois sculpture of a disemboweled rabbit is also included in the exhibition, hung from the wall like a hunter’s morbid trophy.