“Bronze” defies the short review, being huge in every sense: geographically – covering countless regions, some less familiar (Luristan? Ottonian?); chronologically – going back to 3500 BCE (not a misprint, it dawned on me); physically – huge statues abound, and there is too much to see in one visit. In short, it is unmissable. Arriving at opening time, I headed straight to Room 9 “Gods” to commune in solitude with a stunning array of large bronzes from India, Tibet, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of a seated figure of Uma from Nepal (11th century) and a French Venus extracting a thorn from her foot (16th century), a teasing multicultural celebration of the nude goddess figure. Sometimes, though, the emphasis on thematic over geographical or chronological structures became frustrating. I nearly missed a 6th century Chinese Maitreya altarpiece from the Met because it was filed under “Groups”, not “Gods”. Some things felt over-represented (Shang dynasty bronzes with intaglio design), others under-represented (Japan scored one “Head” and one “Object”, a 19th century incense burner). Overall, the curators seemed to be anthologizing rather than telling a compelling story. But carping aside, this is a show in which to luxuriate.
Royal Academy, London
15 September 2012 to 9 December 2012
Above (upper image): Statue of Uma. Nepal. Early 11th century. Copper alloy with traces of gilt and semi-precious stones. Height 35.56cm; width 27.94cm; depth 25.40cm. Cleveland Museum of Art. Image: Cleveland Museum of Art, at http://www.clevelandart.org/art/departments.aspx.
Above (lower image): State of Venus extracting a thorn from her foot, Ponce Jacquiot. ca. 1560-1570. Bronze. Height 25.3cm; width 23.5cm; depth 12.5cm. Victoria and Albert Museum. Image: Victoria and Albert Museum, at http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O70342/venus-removing-a-thorn-from-statuette-ponce-jacquiot/.
Below: Altarpiece dedicated to Maitreya. China, late Northern Wei or Eastern Wei dynasty. ca. 525-535. Gilt leaded bronze. Height 59.1cm; width 38.1cm; depth 19.1 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, at http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections.