As construction continues on the John and Richanda Rhoden Arts Center, PAFA is accessioning eight John Rhoden sculptures to serve as the focal points for the new auditorium space, opening this winter.
“The Rhoden auditorium was designed to have these niches built in that will showcase Rhoden’s artwork,” said curator Dr. Brittany Webb. “PAFA knew they wanted to have sculptures on permanent view in the arts center so people are always able to see Rhoden works, regardless of what exhibitions are happening.”
Earlier this year PAFA took responsibility of the John Rhoden collection and estate. In addition to building the John and Richanda Arts Center, PAFA is planning an exhibition celebrating the late sculptor’s work, establishing a full scholarship for a PAFA student in Rhoden’s name, and placing Rhoden’s artwork in museums across the country.
Webb says the eight sculptures chosen for the arts center show the breadth of Rhoden’s career.
“What first struck me was that it’s a great representative sample,” she said. “It shows works in different styles, works from different eras in his career, and represents the medium well.”
The eight sculptures include well-known Rhoden works like Keesong, which has been shown in several exhibitions, and Dancer, which shows off Rhoden’s abstract interpretation of the female form.
“You can see a lot of his female figures have the similar kind of abstract shape, very curvaceous with exaggerated body parts,” Webb said. “The limbs are exaggerated, the hips are very exaggerated.”
Jupiter, a rendering of the male form is abstract in other ways.
“You don’t have this sort of flowy, bulbousness that is represented in the female figures,” she said. “Everything is very angular, there’s a lot more geometry.”
Rhoden’s work in stone, such as Cloud Woman and a reclining female nude are elegant sculptures that Webb says are a perfect fit for PAFA’s permanent collection.
“His work in stone is really elegant and classic, and the kind of poetic sort of modernist work that fits into how people think about classical sculpture often,” she said. “These look like works that wouldn’t be out of place in the Cast Hall.”
Besides helping select sculptures for the new arts center, Webb is researching Rhoden’s life for an exhibition opening in 2020.
She has spent the past few months tracing Rhoden’s history, and learning the stories behind his sculptures. At the Modern Art Foundry in New York, Webb has gotten to know the people who helped Rhoden bring his artwork to life.
“They had excellent records and stories from the people who knew him. They always had kids in the neighborhood who would come through and see the sculptures. Folks had a sense that he was a very generous person with this incredible sense of humor,” she said.
And records at the Smithsonian have shown Webb a new side of Rhoden’s life and travels.
“There are places I didn’t know he was until we started to come across coverage from newspapers in places like the Philippines. And I didn’t know he gave lectures in Rome, and Poland, and the Netherlands,” she said. “I also recently found his old passport. It retraces his steps in a way."
Along with the exhibition, PAFA will publish an in-depth catalogue about Rhoden’s life and work.
“This kind of writing has not been done about Rhoden yet,” Webb said. “Previous catalogues have been: a list of awards and here are the places he went, please enjoy these sculptures,” she said. “Never has anyone said, ‘Let’s talk about what this means for the work and how it shifts in different ways in his history.’”