There must be hundreds of reasons why people collect art. It can be as investment or as inspiration. It can be as a way to see a reflection of yourself or society. It can be a way to remind you of human potential, or of human folly. It can be to surround yourself with beauty, or contrast with nature’s beauty in order to appreciate the space in which the art rests. One thing that I think this wide dispersion of reasons has in common is speculation. That is speculation on the monetary value of a work of art or on its influence on you. Both of these are ways of peering into the future. There is also something unique about bronze sculptures. Bronze is as close to eternal as humans know. Bronze will outlive not only us, but outlive canvas, outlive paint and could be one of the few archeological treasures of future alien visitors who will find only this art as a reminder of humanity.
My family bought a sculpture from my friend, the artist Mark Pilato, which is titled “The Modern Day Thinker”. Though you have no doubt seen the photo of it here on this blog, if you had not, your first thought would be to notice the reference to the famous work of Rodin called simply the “Thinker”. Rodin’s “Thinker” needs no description as it is one of the most famous sculptures of any period. Rodin must have created this work in a moment where time stood still long enough for it to neither exist in modernity or antiquity, but rather in universality. The “Thinker” is a strong man. He is a worker, hardened by labor, but confounded by self reflection not by action. I can think of nothing more meaningful to the struggles of humans, who more than any other animal are lost in their own silent ideas after the labors of days that fail to fill the empty space which surrounds consciousness. “The Modern Day Thinker” is equally as timeless, but seems to push beyond physical constraints in ways that Rodin did not intend with his own work. In this work the Thinker is feminine, but not a woman or a man. The Modern Day Thinker is sexually provocative, but without sex. I refer to the piece as she because I do not want to reduce her form to an “it” merely because we cannot readily acknowledge gender. Her thinking differs from the Rodin "Thinker". It is not the thinking of someone filling the void left after physical effort as in Rodin’s sculpture, but is thinking to fill the entirety of existence. This may very well come from Mark’s admiration for Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. This Modern Day Thinker is like Virgil trapped in Limbo, eternally gazing upward to paradise, while forever unable to make that journey. This gaze is not so much a gaze since “The Modern Day Thinker” has no eyes, but instead only an ethereal gesture of anticipation through inward reflection.
If it is true that collecting art is about speculation, and that bronze is near eternal, how can we imagine our finite lives and the infinity of the art? “The Modern Day Thinker” embraces the paradox inherent in this question. Her geometry is both a minimalist reduction, and mathematically complex. Unlike sharp edges which can easily be solved, “The Modern Day Thinker” wraps, warps and curves its way through space. Maybe this is why she is so beautiful to me. She makes me contemplate and speculate on the future, but leaves enough mystery to make that future ambiguous and exciting.