Saturday, 27 November 2021

Robert’s Time Capsule: Improving Rodin

This time capsule was inspired by Choklit Orange’s recent encounter with sculptures by the French artist Auguste Rodin, which she said she would like to pie. As it happens, Robert also had a Rodin experience once upon a time — one that involved a different kind of food. Over to him:

It was when I was in my 20s and sharing a house with some high-school buddies near Washington, D.C. My friend J. J. Martindale, whose name some of the older MBers will recognize, was working in New York and came down for a weekend to sleep on our couch and see some sights. She was feeling mischievous, as usual, and I was delighted when she and my housemate John agreed to try something I’d been pondering for a while.

It involved “The Burghers of Calais,” a bronze sculpture by Rodin, one cast of which stands in the sculpture garden of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. The sculpture, a larger-than-life representation of half a dozen mournful-looking men with ropes around their necks, commemorates something that happened in France during the Hundred Years War. When the city of Calais surrendered after a long and miserable siege, the victorious English army demanded that six prominent citizens come out in their underwear, with nooses, to be executed. The English changed their minds at the last minute and spared them, but it was a close call.

J. J. and John and I went to an upholstery store and bought some large cylinders and thin sheets of foam rubber, which we took home and carved into the shapes of oversized buns, meat patties, and leaves of lettuce. We glued them together to look like hamburgers, stuck some watermelon seeds on top to approximate scaled-up sesame seeds, and spray-painted the foam murky green and black to resemble weathered bronze. Once the hamburgers were dry, we stuffed them into knapsacks and drove to the Hirshhorn.

J. J., who hailed from Surrey, England, by way of Cambridge, distracted the guard by pretending to be a confused tourist. (“Excuse me, could you tell me whether that large building over there is the White House? Oh, it’s not? Are you sure? The Capitol, you say? What do they do there?”) Once we were in the clear, John and I unzipped our own foam mini-sculptures and slotted them into place. Voilà:

The Burgers of Calais.

We strolled up and down the Mall for an hour and a half or so, swinging back near the Sculpture Garden periodically to see whether anyone had noticed the addition. A gratifying number of people did, including several actual confused tourists. I’m not sure how long the burgers stayed up, but the burghers were still holding them when we went home.


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