JANUARY 12 2010 – FEBRUARY 20 2011
Entering the exhibit, The Little Dancer faces the viewer, chin up, leg extended, with all the tension and arrogance of adolescence. Degas’ involvement with the body and motion is the essence of this exhibit, at once a sensual experience to be savored and an opportunity to study the artist more closely. In the second room three small sculptures are set on a shelf, just below eye level, creating an atmosphere of intimacy – you can almost feel Degas’ hands working the wax. The immediacy and tactile quality of the exhibit is enhanced by the presence of sculptures cast from works such as the figure of a woman bowing, the expressive body rough, unfinished, limbs thick, and her head heavy and large – the raw material of movement. Seven dancers almost seem to move, set on a round table in the center of the room, their black shadows dancing on the yellow ochre background. The beautiful display is also very user-friendly for those who want to study the exhibit in depth. The exhibit is arranged according to theme: dancers, dancers backstage, women, horses, bathers, a fragment from the bas-relief Picking Apples, and busts. Augmenting the sculptures are three paintings from the museum’s permanent collection, and accompanying the texts in each room are reproductions of Degas’ drawings which provide another visual approach to his artistic perspective and process.
While Degas’ attitude towards women has been much discussed by critics and scholars, his attention to the female body and sensitivity to its nuances is undeniable. Looking at the sculpture Pregnant Woman you can see the shift in her center of gravity, one of the physical aspects of advanced pregnancy. While sculptures such as Seated Woman in an Armchair, Wiping Her Left Arm-pit, might be open to accusations of voyeurism and obsession, a close examination of Degas’ work suggests a more complex although certainly intimate involvement. A reproduction of Degas’ sketch of Rodin’s sculpture Eve is faithful to the original, showing a woman turned inward, arms folded across her chest, immobile in her shame, passive. Degas’ sculpture, while referring to a similar context, creates a very different effect. Degas’ Eve spirals outward, her hands reach down toward her genitals, but the reaching movement leaves her breasts exposed, open space between her bent arms and torso. Her legs are splayed, knees bent, as she turns her face away from the viewer, one might imagine her about to flee. This woman may have been caught and shamed, but her stance implies the possibility of action. The small bas-relief and sculpted portraits reveal additional aspects of Degas’ work, as does the quoted sonnet dedicated to opera singer Rose Caron, known for her graceful movement. The exhibition opens January 12, 2011.