The return of the Olympic Games to their birthplace, Greece, requires that we once more endow this supreme event with its original moral and artistic dimension, its original sense of human striving for perfection. This was the rationale which lay behind the creation of the institution of the Cultural Olympiad by the Ministry of Culture.
The exhibition “Six Major Sculptors: a conversation with humanity; Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol, Brancusi, Giacometti, Moore” to be staged at the National Gallery, will be one of the major visual arts events to be seen during the period of the Olympic Games.
Sculpture played a crucial role in the ancient Olympics. The most beautiful pieces of sculpture bequeathed to us by antiquity are statues of athletes, perpetuating the memory of their victories in Panhellenic games. It was only natural, then, that we should choose an exhibition of sculpture as the major artistic event to accompany the great, international sporting festival of the Athens Olympics.
The six European sculptors were selected on the grounds of their devotion to the humanist tradition founded by ancient Greek sculpture, as well as the role they played in the radical transformation of this same tradition. Indeed, these six leading representatives of modern and contemporary art will permit us to watch closely the various stages in the progress from the traditional, but radically renewed and re-animated sculptural forms of the first three sculptors ( Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol), to the three versions of contemporary plastic art represented by those of the second group (Brancusi, Giacometti, Moore).
The six sculptors chosen also represent another trajectory, a new approach, a new reading and a new appraisal of the teachings of ancient art:
Rodin was the first modern sculptor to understand in depth the plastic message of Phidian sculpture, its vitality and truth, its relationship with the living model and the plastic solutions it bequeathed to the tradition of the human figure. Rodin was not only a great admirer of ancient art, but also an ardent collector. A number of unique pieces from his collection will be displayed in Athens alongside his own works. Bourdelle transferred his preferences to Olympia and ancient plastic art, helping him to restore to sculpture its monumental character. Maillol seeks the archetypal abstract and yet full figure of the Mediterranean fertility goddess, the figure embodied in the Aphrodite of Praxiteles.
Brancusi returns to the lesson of the Cyclades. His clean, condensed forms usher in the era of modern sculpture. Giacometti is inspired in his slender figures by the tapering forms of geometrical sculpture and the small figures of the Etruscan sculptors. Yet he endows them with a sense of drama which expresses the existential anguish and passions of 20th century man. Finally, Henry Moore restores to the human figure the innate ‘classical’ fullness and optimism, inventing the plastic principle of ‘vital form’. His reclining figures, warriors and matriarchal deities are often inspired by antiquity, demonstrating the vitality and endurance of the ancient teachings.
The sculptors we have selected are also linked by relations of teacher-student-disciple – which bring another dimension and cohesion to the group.