Conceptually, the design of the exhibition at MoMu is consistent with the sculptural fashion of Madame Grès. The original exhibition by Musée Galliera took place in the beautiful spaces of the Musée Bourdelle, housing the former studios of the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Her silhouettes were on display amongst the monumental Bourdelle sculptures.
In Antwerp, it was not possible to recreate the unique character of the Musée Bourdelle, with its imposing works and intimate studios, but we did decide to preserve the link with sculpture in our exhibition design. MoMu invited the Belgian sculptor Renato Nicolodi to work with scenographer Bob Verhelst to develop the setting for the exhibition, against a backdrop of sand colour (“grès” is French for sandstone).
Nicolodi was trained as a painter and only later shifted to sculpture. In his monumental con- crete sculptures, he continues to make use of the contrasts employed in painting: light and dark, open and closed, etc. Nicolodi’s work refers to the kind of archetypal architecture that is ingrained in our collective memory. He is fascinated by such man-made structures as the Pyramids, bunkers, or disused urban architecture, from Antiquity for example, which have lost their original function to become sculpture instead.
For the Fashion Museum, Nicolodi designed a series of separate elements, scale models with austere rows of columns and staircases that seem part of some greater whole. They could be left over from a larger structure, in the same way that the ruins of the Forum in Rome still convey the suggestion of a great past.
Works made to scale and numerous stairs are characteristic of Renato Nicolodi’s work. As he explains, “When I first made use of (stairs) in my work, they had the form of incrementally advancing entrances. You could refer to the result as a vertically arranged flight of steps. That gradual change from large to small also brought an increasing shift from light to dark, because each smaller portal was partly in the shadow of a larger one, with darkness as its final endpoint. It is a question of gradations, and they can be understood both literally and figuratively.”
“Figuratively, the gradual factor in my sculptures symbolically stands for the mental journey that I hope the viewer will take as he experiences my work. Steps take us from level to level, and climbing them stands for the different stages or steps that you go through when expe- riencing a mental journey. It is the same in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is based on a fictional journey through the hereafter.”
“The black holes experienced in seeing a flat surface in my work can also be seen as a reflection of water in a well, or like projection screens on which the viewer can project his or her thoughts or stories.”
Interview: Karen van Godtsenhoven
Camera: Emanuel Parent
Montage: Guido Verelst – Deep Focus