Richard MacDonald and Bernini’s Curls.

Richard MacDonald at the Bellagio, 2015

Richard MacDonald is a sculptor born in the 1940s in California. Many of his works were on display (and for sale; sadly I had no small bills *smirk*) at the Bellagio in August. The placard had the standard text which any fool with a B.A. in Art History would have written, comparing MacDonald to Rodin, Degas, Michelangelo (the sinews!) and placing the artist in the camp of the Neo-Realists. It did not mention that MacDonald employs the “lost wax” method: you learn that only when you visit his official website.

I had a wonderful art history professor who waxed poetic about “the curls of Bernini.” And this is understandable: check out the hair on The Damned Soul, The Blessed Soul, Neptune, and the bust of Louis XIV (especially the bust of Louis XIV). For that matter, look at the hair of the goat on The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun. Waxing anything about the curls of Bernini makes a great deal of sense. Although, my favorite stone hairdo actually belongs, not to Bernini, but to the ancient Portrait of a Flavian Woman (Roman, first century). (You need to click that hyperlink, kids, because the hair, y’all. The hair.)

Now, for me, knowledge of Bernini utterly ruined Dan Brown for me (I gave Brown the hack a chance and I do not feel the loss here): 16 pages into whichever-bestseller I knew it would lead to Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain (Fontana dei quattro fiumi): and incidentally, click the following Ganges hyperlink, too. Check out the beard on the personification of the River Ganges! Bernini and SuperCuts are like brothers from another mother. The curls, darling. The curls!

I am a hack, an odd bird, and, by every measure, inelegant and undiscerning. So I have no problem admitting: my favorite Berninis are Apollo and Daphnis (my god, she’s turning into a tree and I believe it! Also, it seems to move, even in photographs. Like Galileo: E pur si miove), the aforementioned Damned Soul, that Goat, Medusa, and (bourgeous, as I am), the Ecstasy of St Theresa (oh, cherub, that you should smile like that!).

Equally, so odd am I, that I have been driven to rapture by the texture and sheen of old barn wood; the rough underside of a silvered birch leaf in the rain. The blue-red-black iridescence of my cat’s hair in the sunlight, the velvet petals of wildflowers in the sun, the perfect and implacable smoothness of a new bar of soap. And, if truly pressed, my two favorite sculptures of all time (or at least tonight) are the hyper-realistic wooden ancient Egyptian portrait of Sheikh el-Balad (Ka-aper)** and Ghost Clock.**** (And we’re going to have to leave out all the medieval stuff here for a minute because you know I’m a sucker for that. Uta and Bamberg Rider, you had me at ‘hello.’)

Not that Bernini’s some kind of slouch.

Which brings me back to Richard MacDonald (finally). I adore the fairy-like trumpeter. Her face speaks magic and Christmas and beauty to me. She is the epitome of joy. But it’s the skin of the circus performer in bowler hat that makes/made me utterly mad. Raving, in fact, and thinking of Bernini’s curls and poetry.

His skin looked so real, I could see pores. The lashes were so fine, I honestly kept checking back to see if he blinked or breathed. His eyes…well, you get the idea. I think, mainly, it was the skin, but this sculpture, I am still fairly convinced, is actually a human in gray-bronze paint and you can probably see him at Earl of Sandwich or Hash House ’round about noon eating something pretty great. If this is sculpture, well, it lived/lives.

Many of MacDonald’s pieces were beautiful to me: sinew and cartilege and the utter, elastic, tensile perfection of the bodies of dancers. If Michelangelo had lived now, perhaps instead of his dense and dramatic muscles, he might have focused on the Balanchine-nearly-impossible-sinewy and Gothic tracery that is the skeletal and cartiliginous structure of the modern human dancer (gymnast, acrobat). MacDonald celebrates these and, one suspects, if he were a teenage girl, it is these forms which he is expert in delineating in bronze and wax and patina that would drive him to skip very many a lunch.

The forms are beautiful. The majority of his pieces (or at least, the majority of those on display at the Bellagio) were of circus performers, dancers: I have never, ever seen such a regard for the perfect and unimaginably strong arch of a dancer’s foot (and I confess, this is something I know and love and seek: it becomes ultra-human, super-human, a dancer’s foot. Doesn’t it? Arched past reason into something architectural). I could wax poetic here but I’ll take a dancer’s foot over any curls any day. And, clearly, so will our friend Richard MacDonald.

I did not love all of the Bellagio-displayed oeuvre of MacDonald: the “Night” sculpture seemed cheesy and cheap and, for all the excellence in execution, even for dancers, some of them felt insubstantial to me, tropes and dated and decorative in the absolute worst sense of the word.

But the majority? They breathed, or spoke, or stretched; an endless series of studies in flexibility and immaculate lines. Some of them had pores. The best of them were ecstatic (the trumpeter!).

“What a piece of work is a man!” Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

** This scribe will some day be a post of his own. It’s ridiculously difficult to find a good site with both a “head shot” and the full-statue view of this miraculous sycamore sculpture. He breathes, too. I’m sure of it.

**** And we’ll need to have a separate post for Game Fish. It’s cool, too.

See also: Slideshow — The Sculpture of Richard MacDonald

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