Medardo Rosso, MSK Gent

Italian artist Medardo Rosso (1858–1928) is hailed as the pioneer of modern sculpture. At the crossroads of two centuries, Rosso stands as the forefather of Futurism and as influencer of the libertarian art movements of the 1960s.
The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent’s exhibition sheds light on the creative process of one of the major figures of late 19th- early 20th-century art. Rosso’s work has not been shown in Belgium since 1909.

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Pushing the boundaries of materiality
The exhibition highlights Rosso’s complex creative process, especially his explorations of the limits of form and materiality, which resulted in endless versions of his own works.

Rosso was not a sculptor in the traditional sense. Eschewing wood and stone, he worked with soft materials such as clay and wax which lent themselves to the rendering of ephemeral effects and subtle forms. He produced multiple versions of his works, constantly varying the forms and materials.

Medardo Rosso, Salon d'automne: malato all'ospedale, 1904 (…
Medardo Rosso, Salon d'automne: malato all'ospedale, 1904 (private collection)

Rosso’s art not only seeks to capture the fleeting moment, but deals with universal concepts such as despair, poverty, and innocence. His works appear as abstractions of these concepts. Rosso did not dramatize the moment, he captured it, extended it, and, in his photographs, ultimately succeeded in extracting it from its material environment. Certain sides of the sculptures were modeled, others weren’t. In this way, he played with the placement of the art works in the space, deliberately guiding the spectator’s perspective.

Materialisation of the artist’s creative process
The exhibition takes an in-depth look at the underlying principles of Rosso’s creative process: his struggle with materiality; his firm belief that light played an instrumental role; his perception of space; the importance of the spectator’s perspective; and his interest in the image and its luminous qualities.

To quote Rosso: “Nothing is material in space, because everything is space and therefore everything is relative”.

Medardo Rosso, Salon d'automne: femme à la voilette, 1904 (…
Medardo Rosso, Salon d'automne: femme à la voilette, 1904 (detail, private collection)

Sculpture and photography
Such are the principles that led Rosso to turn to photography. He photographed his works in the studio, changing the backdrops, adjusting the framing, until the forms dissolved and faded into the space. In Rosso’s eyes, sculpture and the viewing of sculpture were inextricably linked, and photography became the ultimate movement from the spectator’s point of view. It enabled him to reach his ultimate goal: to render form insubstantial. In doing so, he recognized photography as an artistic discipline. 


A must-see exhibition in Ghent
Favouring an open, spatial, and interactive perspective on sculpture coupled with a holistic perspective on the creative process, Medardo Rosso was indeed an artist ahead of his time. He aspired to render form insubstantial through sculpture, drawing, and photography. In doing so, he produced extremely fragile sculptures which are very rarely displayed or moved.

The MSK has succeeded in bringing together an impressive collection of works from public and private collections across Europe. The Medardo Rosso retrospective offers a unique opportunity to admire first hand the work of this pioneer of modern sculpture. Rarely have so many works by this internationally acclaimed master, unjustly neglected in Belgium, been shown together in an exhibition.