Bertoldo di Giovanni at The Frick Collection, New York

January 3, 2020

Sculpture Forum 6: “Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence” September 18, 2019 – January 12, 2020 at The Frick Collection, New York. Participants: Garth Evans, Bruce Gagnier, Jock Ireland, Karen Wilkin (video by Maud Bryt). Special thank you to The Frick Collection for allowing us to videotape the exhibit. ©SculptureForum2020 Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

It’s a wonderful show—and I think it raises questions about where we are today. –Garth Evans

I have to confess I was not aware of Bertoldo’s existence—and work—until my attention was drawn to this show. –Garth Evans

I went to the exhibition expecting to meet an artist with a very consolidated grasp of the patterns of how to put together animals and humans, anatomical patterns that you might see in someone like Giambologna. I should have known better given that he was in the very rich soup of the quattrocento. So I was unprepared for the stylistic variety that I encountered—and which made the show much more interesting for me. –Bruce Gagnier

You certainly saw him going toe to toe with the classical past. But what I found so fascinating was the commonalities that I found: a fascination with playing complicated textures and three dimensional patterns against very suavely modeled forms—and what really struck me in both the Bellerophon and the Hercules: from the end views, how complex the way—this movement in space—the way things were moving in opposite directions. In the Bellerophon the legs of the horse, the arms of Bellerophon, the head of the horse: everything was carving out a different trajectory in space. I found that really exciting. –Karen Wilkin

The other thing—and this may be totally nuts—but I felt the guy was having fun. –Garth Evans

That Battle relief is astonishing, isn’t it? It’s almost like looking at a Jackson Pollock drip painting. –Garth Evans

I liked what you said before about his personality coming through, Garth, because I was thinking about Donatello as I was looking at this show and how Donatello took anatomical patterns from the past into a new abstraction. After you said that, Garth, I too felt a unique personality in the way that he took what are maybe not normalized forms but available forms, anatomical forms, and he moved them into personality, into his own—and they feel innocent in some way. –Bruce Gagnier

About that Orpheus. It’s really wonderful that we’ve got it. It’s 5 or 600 years old—and it’s full of cracks, unfinished—why didn’t somebody turn it into a cannonball? And yet it stands out as something that talks to us directly—that sense of this is how the thing was made—that’s available to us. –Jock Ireland

We’ll never see these works the way quattrocento people saw them no matter how much research we do. We have a direct connection with the Rachel Harrisons, for better or worse, because we’re coming out of the same context. Can we consider them the same way? –Karen Wilkin

I think the shift, after people like Franz West, for instance, to “bad” sculpture took it away from the criteria that guided sculpture for so long. That was an earthquake, really, to intentionally deaccession the classical criteria. When we look at Bertoldo I think that anybody who thinks of sculpture through the eyes of the older criteria—now older criteria—will not be disappointed. The abstractions are all there. I suspect they were very aware of these things. –Bruce Gagnier

Were they articulating it? Probably not. There’s obviously a difference between the artists who had this strong sense of abstract formal composition. They’re the ones we revere today. Verisimilitude wasn’t the only issue. –Karen Wilkin

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