By Natalie Gempel
The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas recently announced the launch of the French Sculpture Census, a digital archive cataloging French works of sculpture created between 1500 and 1960 that are housed in American museums, estates, public buildings and public spaces. With 7,000 entries at the time of its launch, the census offers an exhaustive history of French sculpture in America, which will only grow more elaborate as more works are discovered and documented. The Nasher, the University of Texas at Dallas, the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, have funded the project, which was created and directed by Laure de Margerie. A founding staff member of Musee d’Orsay and the French Sculpture Census coordinator at UTD, de Margerie was in charge of sculpture at the museum from 1978 to 2009. Working as a courier for Musee d’Orsay, she traveled with the collection to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. in 2001.
“I arrived the day before 9/11 — there were no flights for several days — it was difficult to find a seat not just for me but for the crates with important Impressionist paintings,” de Margerie said.
Stranded at the Clark Institute among some of the most valuable art history resources in the country, de Margerie began to toy with the idea of creating a comprehensive database of French sculpture.
“I went back to Paris and put the beginning of my census on a shelf at my office at Musee d’Orsay and there it laid for eight more years,” de Margerie said. “When I moved to Dallas in 2009 I started again the project [sic] and enlarged it, widened the scope by taking not only 19th century sculpture[s] but sculpture[s] dating from 1500 to 1960 considering not only American museums, but all public collections.”
The census not only aims to satisfy the Francophiles and art snobs of the world, but also to make the rich legacy of French art in America more accessible, and more visible to the public.
“Everyone can see it but no one sees it,” de Margerie explained. “The problem with sculpture in public places is that people are so used to seeing it that no one notices it.”
It is quite fitting that de Margerie teamed up with the Nasher Sculpture Center on this project, an institution cheeky enough to mingle famous, important works of sculpture among Forever 21 and Ann Taylor outlets, as at NorthPark Center. Speaking of which, the mall is a prime example of the attitude de Margerie described.
Northpark Center — an incredibly ordinary, popular, “normcore” place — is filled with the works of Henry Moore, Antony Gormley, Joel Shapiro and more, yet one could venture a guess that more than a couple of shoppers never stop to look. Perhaps the growth of resources such as the French Sculpture Census will have an effect on the artistically unaffected.
Education is one of the intended purposes of the census, but the census also sprung from a “desire to share the mere pleasure of looking at sculpture,” as de Margerie explained.
“This is not only for French sculpture but all sculpture,” de Margerie said. “People don’t always see sculpture — once you start looking for sculpture and have an open mind you will start to see more sculpture in public space.”