Michelangelo: Unfulfilled Genius

by Laura Dahmer

“When we look at a painting, we don’t see the blood, sweat and tears, the concentration and the emotional commitment behind it,” said David Wistow, Interpretive Planner at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) of the “Michelangelo – Quest for Genius” exhibit which takes visitors inside the artist’s struggles, unfulfilled projects and dreams.

zeeBigBang spoke to Wistow about Michelangelo, heralded as one of the greatest sculptors, painters and architects of all time and often described as being perfect, superior, or even God. Wistow helps us understand geniuses, their ambition and the role of museums to share their talent and artistic achievements.

imageleft: Michelangelo, Cleopatra, c. 1532-1533. right: Michelangelo, Crested helmet, c. 1504.

“We want to humanize Michelangelo to the people. There is this myth about geniuses: They create without stress,” stated Wistow. “Most people don’t know that only one of Michelangelo’s architectures was built the way he planned it – most of them never even got beyond paper.” Wistow described the artist’s life as a “restless battle against the Status Quo and constant rejection.”

imageMichelangelo, Study for Christ in Limbo, c. 1532-1533.

The exhibition consists of 30 of Michelangelo’s personal, secret drawings and is divided into four key aspects: 1) the artist’s infinite ambition, 2) his struggles and defiance, 3) his search for perfection, and 4) his unfulfilled projects and dreams. For Wistow, being inside the exhibition is like “being in his studio and watching his deeply personal thoughts on paper, without him looking over your shoulder.”

imageDavid Wistow, Interpretive Planner at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Also featured in this “studio” are 10 pieces of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. “He took Michelangelo as an inspiration, even a mentor. You can see a lot of similarities between the two of them: the same motives, the same struggles – personally and professionally,” said Wistow. “It made perfect sense to bring the two together in this exhibition,” he added.

imageAuguste Rodin, Head of Pierre de Wiessant, c. 1885.

According to Wistow, Michelangelo teaches a universal lesson. “He tested himself every single day, wanting to get better. That is what makes him a true genius, and that is what every one of us can learn from him.”

Michelangelo worked very hard every day for 77 years to get his art where it was when he died. He searched and studied ways to improve his artistry and struggled with rejection by those who didn’t understand his greatness at the time. Wistow says it’s these trials and tribulation that “make him a human being rather than a God,” It is Wistow’s hope that visitors to the exhibit “feel connected” to Michelangelo the man.

imageMichelangelo, Study for the Porta Pia in Rome, c. 1561.

In Wistow’s opinion, personalizing the relationship between the art and artist and each visitor is the role of an art gallery or museum. He said his role at the AGO is to “help the visitor to enter the artist’s world”, and then “surprise him.” His goal for the exhibit is to overturn visitors’ assumptions about Michelangelo the man and Michelangelo the artist.

imageMichelangelo, Madonna and Child, c. 1524.

The exhibition “Michelangelo – Quest for Genius” runs until January 11th at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Check out the museum’s website at www.ago.net.

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