From “The Medardo Rosso Project,” Barry X Ball, Mexican Onyx, Variable Dimensions, 2019
Barry X Ball‘s “Medardo Rosso Project” is the gold standard for how an artist should pay homage to an inspiration of the past. The series of sculptures crafted from exotic stones debuted in Venice at the Ca Pesaro Museum and ran concurrently with the most recent Bienale of 2019.
If nothing else, Barry X Ball is a sculptor obsessed with the uncanny. The delicacy of his work clashes sublimely with the firmness of the materials with which he engages. Whether marble or onyx, as is the case with this work from the Medardo Rosso Project, Ball may be the contemporary American artist who most successfully fuses modernism’s aesthetic sensibilities with the conceptual concerns of the banal and the postmodern obsessions over fabrication. Think Robert Gober or Sherrie Levine paying homage to Auguste Rodin or Camille Claudel, respectively (or not).
The exhibition of sculptures crafted out of a variety of stones from Mexico and the USA was an exceptional opportunity to witness a dialogue between the two artists from radically different cultures, time periods and traditions. Since Ca Pesaro is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive Medardo Rosso collections, Ball’s sculptures were given the perfect forum for viewers to take the psychological trip between existential continents.
Medardo Rosso, Bambino, Wax, Variable Dimensions, Date Unknown
One floor below Rosso’s wax sculptures, with their ever-transforming mutations and intricate depictions of people of varying ages, provided a lovely entry into Ball’s re-imagining of his predecessor’s legacy by virtue of a number of excellent Rosso portraits. Medardo Rosso worked as much, if not more, in wax than bronze and other materials. It is an interesting phenomenon of temporality that his wax sculptures have morphed ino more inscrutable forms over the decades since they were created. This softness, this malleability makes for a fascinating and memorable counterpoint to Ball’s stone “copies.”
Indeed, The Medardo Ross Project is one of many sperlative examples of an artist finding inspiration from an influence and predecessor via the copy. Of course, Bacon’s Van Goghs, Picasso’s Manets and Ball’s Rossos are in no way obscene ripoffs of their inspirations. In fact, the very attempt to mimic the work through a dynamic shift in presentation and construction renders Ball’s Rosso series all the more radical and succesful.
The Medardo Rosso Project bravely pays homage in the most respectful way possible: by taking one’s influences and carefully reworking them into another iteration of outcomes without betraying one’s own integrity. The greatest homage an artist can pay to another is to find inspiration and make with it something profoundly and ineffably original with traces of its predecessor still nascent within the DNA of such gestures.