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Philadelphia's Rodin Museum back to its brilliant best

19th July 2012

Four years and nine million dollars later – approximately £5.8 million – Philadelphia's Rodin Museum has finally reopened to the public and it has never looked better. Well, sort of, for you see, this is a very modern renovation that has, gracefully so, taken the establishment back in time.

First opened in 1929, the museum has, over the years, suffered from the usual natural damage any significant and busy institution undergoes every day. Call it ageing or manmade erosion, it doesn't matter; buildings age and are impacted on by the environment in which they exist.

In this instance, you have the hoards of visitors ambling by works, pottering, thinking, impacting on the fabric of the institution with their physical presence, and likewise, with your art handlers, curators and gallerists, so too do you have examples of the very physicality of the museum being reshaped, time and after.

The Rodin Museum, which is home to the ingenious works of its namesake Auguste Rodin, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century French sculptural genius, has thus been restored to its former glory, offering visitors the very same experience as was the case 83 years ago.

"It was long overdue," explained Timothy Rub, director and chief executive of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which manages the Rodin Museum. "We have a beautiful site and building and a great collection that had, frankly, lost some of its lustre."

What has defined the project has been the commitment to authenticity, with exacting research and planning underpinning the extensive refurbishment. It is as if it has been turned upside down, inside out, twisted, skimmed and cleaned up, all the detritus of the ages shaken off and put back together again, like a perfect jigsaw puzzle.

"Everything you see here, the interior in particular, is a true restoration of one of the most sophisticated buildings ever," noted curator Joseph Rischl. "This is as sophisticated as a Parisian dress of 1929."

The restoration is indeed a real triumph that pays homage to both the original architect Paul Cret and Jacques Greber, the landscape designer responsible for the museum's formal yet picturesque gardens.

Perhaps the most observable change is in seeing the sculptures restored to their original spots both inside and outside the museum, conceptually fixing the natural narrative of the space, while less noticeable modifications, like a new state-of-the-art air conditioning system, modernises the space in a understated way.

The Rodin Museum has always had a special place among institutions, no less for the fact that it houses the largest collection of the sculptor's works outside of the Musee Rodin in Paris and Meudon. There are approximately 140 sculptures made out of marble, bronze and plaster, which document the different phases the artist went through during his illustrious career.

That experience will now be a lot more engaging, the perfect trinity of great art, a great location and a great building all working in harmony.

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