Breaking News: Auguste Rodin Hides Out In Los Angeles

municipal_artLos Angeles hides her secrets well, especially on a quiet Thursday in July. Atop a hill, facing the Hollywood sign sits Barnsdall Park, an unassuming place often taken for granted by those who know it and invisible to those who don’t. A thick canopy of trees shades walkways and tiny wrought iron tables and chairs perfect for a picnic for two. There’s a theatre, a building where kids learn how to paint, and its crown jewel, the Los Angeles Municipal Arts Museum Gallery—a cumbersome name for such an elegant and modern space.

Behind its doors lies 10,000 square feet of polished pale gray cement floors and matching walls. There’s an artistic reverence here, particularly on this sleepy summer day. However I’ve noticed it before, even when the room is abuzz with art aficionados and serious followers.

Today, I’m part of a secret society of unpretentious intellectuals nourished by the park’s limitless gifts of peace and meaningful, substantive art. It is an uncomplicated respite nestled deep within a city I often find perplexing. I don’t amuse easily and am often circumspect about anything enthusiastically promoted, which in this town is almost anything new and hip. It’s not just that these things often suffer from the Emperor’s New Clothes problem. It’s the herculean effort required to get anywhere, fight traffic, find parking, meet friends, eat, and judiciously nurse one alcoholic beverage when I want three after a grueling day of work. Having a good time in Los Angeles is just too hard.

Today, however, I am unshackled— free to walk through sun-speckled sidewalks and breathe air so fresh it flows through every pore. I haven’t felt this euphoric since I flew on swing sets high above bars and sat, for that breathtaking moment, suspended in air before careening back to earth and on to the other side. Almost nothing has compared to that, until now.

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I walk through the floor to ceiling doors of the museum to see Auguste Rodin’s drawings. These masterpieces line the walls in perfect symmetry articulating a profound and disturbing agony. In his commanding hands, ink and shade bring human suffering to life as each drawing plunges me deeper down the rings of Dante’s inferno. Rodin draws me into images depicting humanity’s breathtaking capacity for cruelty.

He was obsessed by the human form. In every piece he tirelessly explores complex human relationships and nuanced emotions. His designs rise from the paper and move in a constant dance before the eyes. There is a spirit here, one that cannot be captured in reprints or photographs. This must be seen to be experienced. In these pieces a great human narrative unfolds, one that is startlingly modern and often familiar: a mother’s embrace, a lover’s touch—you’ll find yourself in these images.

I pour over each drawing to honor Rodin’s indefatigable efforts. It’s like he drew each piece as if it were his last. I often feel, in my own work as a writer, that there’s a “good enough” factor that must take precedent in order to make deadlines and please bosses. As I stand before each magnificent drawing, I feel pleasure in the time it must’ve required him to get every one right.
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Afterwards, I wander through the hushed grounds of Barnsdall Park. Two children play hide-and-go-seek with their father. A man walks his dog. A homeless girl seeks refuge in a secret corner under a tree. In a town obsessed with youth and status, this park exists as a great equalizer. There are no parking fees, no museum dues or tickets. It’s free. And while that may mean it doesn’t yet rate in this town, it makes it one of the coolest places I’ve visited.

LAMAG is emerging as a serious contender on the art scene as well as one of LA’s most exciting cultural destinations. The Rodin exhibit runs through August 17th. Please visit LAMAG.ORG  for more details.

2 thoughts on “Breaking News: Auguste Rodin Hides Out In Los Angeles

  1. Hi Amy: I came across your perfect post about the Barnsdall Art Park Rodin exhibition today while I was trying to learn more about this amazing artwork. And frankly, I was also looking for anyone who might have reviewed it and noticed how “quietly hidden” this unique “art park” is. There has been an ongoing struggle to keep Barnsdall public owned, operated and enjoyed by all. IMO the lack of publicity and “visibility” do not help when it comes to funding the arts programs there or keeping the theater alive (the beautiful 200+ seat theater is “dark” most of the time). And most heartbreaking, to me, was the low-key way this exhibit was launched and maintained. If it had been at LACMA, chances are throngs of art-lovers would have flocked to it.

    I admin a group FB page–“Clean Up Barnsdall Trash and Spirit”–that addresses these issues and more with regard to management of the park and its arts facilities. FYI – There’s a “clean up” effort slated for 8/23 (9-3) and a multi-group public meeting coming up to establish more communication among the various groups and the City regarding finding solutions that will make Barnsdall safer and more “known” to all. When I think of how hard Rodin worked, and what he accomplished, it just seems a shame that relatively few people could learn about it by viewing the originals firsthand at the L.A. Municipal Gallery. Thank you so much for saying what was in my own head as I viewed this rare exhibition. Well done!

    1. Thank you. It’s always nice to hear. The Barnsdall is a magical place. In any other city I’ve ever lived in or visited, this would be something locals would champion. I didn’t know that about the theatre. I’d love to hear more.

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