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Photographer and sculptor Olivier Blanckart thinks of Rodin’s “Balzac”

Born in 1959, Olivier Blanckart is a photographer and sculptor. He teaches the latter discipline at the School of Fine Arts in Paris. If his materials are hardly orthodox – he most frequently models his works with adhesive packing tape – he professes a real admiration for his predecessors, and in particular Rodin, until he has represented himself in photography. , in the posture of Balzac which he has, thanks to a learned make-up, adopted both features and plumpness.

Read the report of a colloquium at the Beaux-Arts in Paris (in April 2016): Joann Sfar and Olivier Blanckart, assumed irresponsible artists

In your self-portrait in homage to “Balzac”, you forgot to wear the dressing gown…

Like at Rodin! He first sketched his nude model. We can see it a bit at the Rodin museums in Paris and Meudon [Hauts-de-Seine], but the Brooklyn Museum, in New York, chose to show all the preparatory states of the Balzac, including the most scabrous: massages of the head of course, but also of other anatomical parts, arms, stomach – and even the lower abdomen, which Rodin shows erect – and, in the end, the covering of all this work by the clothing – a dressing gown remade according to the patterns of the former tailor of Balzac and which Rodin simply dipped in plaster. This exchange of the antique toga for the antechamber ruffle is no small feat, especially as Rodin took the trouble to let a trivial detail protrude under the dress: Balzac’s tired slippers.

How would you describe the work?

The result is astonishing: as soon as we ignore the first false impression of a leaning monolith, which has become a real “cliché” after the famous photo taken by Steichen in the mist, we realize that we have in reality dealing with a composite work. Seen from the front, we are in a register of realistic expressive figuration; the rear, on the contrary, tends to be reduced to a sort of post, a barely squared pseudo-beam that many consider the first decisive gesture of modern abstract sculpture. The profile, finally, is a hieratic effigy in imbalance, a vertiginous overhang that makes it tilt backwards: Balzac, in short! What is completely modern here is that in opposition to the circular gaze that enveloped classical statuary, there is, in fact, no real visual continuity between the different sides of the Balzac.


Long before cubist sculpture experiments, we are in the order of editing, collage, juxtaposition and dissonance. With the Balzac, we leave the register of pompous, reverent statuary, to enter the territory of autonomous, powerful, and at the same time trivial sculpture. Americans understood all this immediately: when I was still living in New York, in 2016, the Balzac de Rodin was enthroned in the entrance to the MoMA. For Americans, it is the beginning of modern art!

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