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RISD Museum Showcases the Human Figure in Show About the Use of the Artist’s Model

The RISD Museum Showcases the Human Figure in Show About the Use of the Artist’s Model Through Time in an exhibition Changing Poses: The Artist’s Model, open Nov. 12, 2010 – June 5, 2011.

Since ancient times, models have been an essential tool for all artists depicting the human figure. This November, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art opens a fascinating exhibition on the role of the artist’s model, demonstrating the range of bodies that have fueled artistic creativity from the Renaissance to the present. The exhibition showcases more than 50 works from the RISD Museum’s esteemed collection of prints, drawings, and photographs, including several recent acquisitions never before on view. Organized by Crawford Alexander Mann III., the Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow.

The exhibition begins with a remarkable group of figure drawings created in the first art schools in Italy and France, including the delicate and beautiful Two Male Nudes (1710) by Louis Boullogne the Younger. Certain period-specific themes and trends come through in the exhibition: the focus on the male nude within early art schools, the interest in costume in the 19th century as a signifier of cultural or class identity, the prevalence of the eroticized female body in modern art, and the recent dialogue between the worlds of high art and fashion advertising. Changing Poses concludes with a selection of contemporary works in which models are employed as actors staged in elaborate installations.

Changing Poses shows that the working relationships between artists and models are continually evolving while also responding to the past. At various circumstances, an artist’s model could be female or male, amateur or professional, anonymous or intimately known, and of any age, body type, ethnicity, or class. Visitors will find pieces by Rembrandt, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol, as well as lesser-known figures.

“This exhibition asks questions about how the model was used in each work of art,” says Mann. “For example, The RISD Museum’s John Singer Sargent drawings give visual evidence of the artist’s process for creating complex multi-figure murals. Sargent choreographed his models like dancers, repeatedly shifting and adjusting their positions while he quickly made large and striking charcoal drawings of each pose.”

Changing Poses: The Artist’s Model presents outstanding works from The RISD Museum’s collection alongside a generous loan from the Annmary Brown Memorial at Brown University: the painting Zeuxis Selecting Models for His Painting of Helen of Troy (ca. 1770s) by Angelica Kauffmann. As a female artist in the 18th century, Kauffmann faced many professional challenges, including exclusion from life-drawing classes at the Royal Academy in London. This painting testifies to the skill she attained despite these obstacles, and also subtly critiques the male-dominated world of Neoclassical art.
“Changing Poses is a perfect RISD exhibition. To this day, art students, including those at RISD, work from living models. This selection of works from the Museum collection illuminates these dynamic relationships and the art they inspired,” says Ann Woolsey, Interim Director of the RISD Museum of Art.

Exhibition-related program
Gallery Talk:
Sunday, Mar. 6, 2011, 2pm
Crawford Alexander Mann III., Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow, Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, organizer of Changing Poses: The Artist’s Model.

Image: Alfred Edward Chalon, The Life Class, 1832. Anonymous Gift.

The RISD Museum of Art, a world-class museum in Providence, RI, was founded as part of Rhode Island School of Design in 1877. Its permanent collection of more than 84,000 objects includes paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, costume, furniture, and other works of art from every part of the world, including objects from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and art of all periods from Asia, Europe, and the Americas, up to the latest in contemporary art. In addition, the Museum offers a wide array of educational and public programs to more than 100,000 visitors annually.

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