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Reinvented by Rodin

July 4, 2017

Versus Rodin

Art

While Adelaide has had a long and distinguished reputation as a small city with a ground-breaking attitude to the arts, one wouldn't necessarily expect it to be home to one of Australia’s great art collections.

Yet the Art Gallery of South Australia, especially under the entrepreneurial directorship of Nick Mitzevich, continues to be full of surprises.

When he arrived in SA in 2010, Nick's mission was to improve the commercial success and artistic reputation of the grand old Gallery on North Terrace, boldly hoping to put it on the world art map.

One of his first shocks – two entwined horses (skins actually) hanging in the old European wing (we are all flesh, by Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere)certainly grabbed attention (and woke up the conservatives) and it has been onward and upwards ever since.

From that fiery start, the Gallery has become the most visited cultural institution in SA (nearly 800,000 children, men and women visited last year), corporate and private sponsorships are up to more than $8 million a year and there is talk of it acting as midwife to a new world class contemporary art museum opening on the site of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital in the early 2020s.

Mitzevich's plans for the expansion of contemporary art and audiences includes the appointment of Leigh Robb as the Art Gallery of South Australia's inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art.

Robb, who has previously worked at the Thomas Dane Gallery, London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice is not shy of a challenge. For this year's Adelaide Festival of Arts exhibition – her first – she delved into the gallery's extensive collection and has included no less than 20 works by the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Purchased by the South Australian Government and Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation from prominent collector and arts patron William Bowmore (1909-2008), the Rodin bronzes are arranged in artistic stand-offs with around 200 other representations of the body – hence the name "Versus Rodin: sodies across space and time."

There are photographs by Max Dupain and Bill Henson, Goya etchings, Roman statues, sculptures by Guy Maestri, videos by Bill Viola , and an impressive catalogue of paintings and drawings.

Of course, Rodin is the hero, each masterpiece a rippling, energetic and anatomically accurate representation of the human form. Sometimes life-sized and sometimes gigantically towering over visitors, they cry out to be stroked and touched. A century after Rodin's death in 1917, the exhibition is timely and ground-breaking.

Visitors need to make up their own minds about the messages that are communicated by so many diverse pieces. But as some reviewers have pointed out, one leaves with that same sense of heightened awareness and bemused introspection that you get from David Walsh's Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), in Hobart.

If the Art Gallery of South Australia can create that same level of passionate visitor support (MONA is now Tassie's major tourism drawcard), by challenging, inspiring and shocking us, then its new contemporary re-imagining, will realise the Mitzevich dream of Adelaide becoming a great international cultural destination.

As a proud supporter of the Art Gallery of South Australia and Versus Rodin we can't recommend this exhilarating art experience highly enough. The exhibition closes on July 16, 2017, so don't miss out.