Ryan Fisher and Judith Sobol from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, and James Bertucci, an LCAD student. (Courtesy LCAD, Coastline Pilot / July 14, 2011)

Auguste Rodin would have been right at home at the Laguna College of Art & Design.

The school's emphasis on figurative art echoes Rodin's love affair with the human body, so where better to exhibit the sculptor's work for the first time in Orange County? The show opened to the public on Monday and a private reception was held Sunday.

"If Rodin were here today, attending his exhibition, LCAD is where he would choose to be teaching — in a figurative sculpture program that embraces his ideals of learning by working directly from the model," said LCAD President Jonathan Burke. "If he was here a little younger, say out of high school, and was looking for a figurative sculpture program, LCAD is where he would choose to study. We are one of three credited art colleges in the United States that has a solely figurative sculpture program."

Burke invited the reception guests to visit the school's sculpture garden and studio where faculty and student work is exhibited.

"When you see this amount of talent, understand that it's not impossible to have a contemporary Renaissance," Burke said. "However, what's needed is a focused, intelligent curriculum with a caring faculty like ours that teach technique, creativity and strive toward excellence."

However, Burke said, great art would not flourish and reach the public eye without collectors, galleries, curator, critics and patrons.

Burke gave special thanks to the underwriters of the Rodin exhibition and to the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, which loaned the sculptures to LCAD.

The late Gerald Cantor began collecting Rodin sculptures in the 1940s. Eventually, the Cantors owned 750 Rodin sculptures, but gave 450 of them to museums. The couple established the foundation in 1978, and it's now actively promoted by Iris Cantor.

One of the foundation's goals is to organize traveling exhibitions.

LCAD was allowed to choose two groups of sculptures that the foundation loans for exhibits: 13 bronze figures and 10 pieces that demonstrate the lost-wax casting process of the piece "Sorrow." The process begins with a clay model and ends a finished bronze, which could be chiseled and filed, called chasing. The last step is the application of oxides to create a thin layer of corrosion, a patina that protects and enhances the bronze.

The bronzes will be exhibited for two and a half months. The casting process display will be installed in the school library for a year and available to the public.

The foundation was represented at the reception by Executive Director Judith Sobol and foundation trustee Ryan Fisher.

"This is a momentous occasion for Laguna College of Art & Design as well as the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation," Fisher said. "This year is the 50th anniversary of LCAD and who better to celebrate it with than Rodin, the master himself.

"The exhibits have been shown in nearly 200 institutions around the world, to an audience of nearly 10 million people. This exhibition shall put us over the 10 million marker. We are very excited."

Fisher expressed his conviction that the school would continue to grow and attract talented students and faculty that would shape the future of art in Laguna and the country under the leadership of Burke, successor to Dennis Power as LCAD president.

Burke credited the exhibit to the support of Sobol and Fisher and to the underwriters

"It is up to each of us to continue to help support students to become artists," Burke said. "By achieving mastery, artists are able to say something positive about the dignity of being human and will continue to move us and we will be touched by their authentic voice."

During the reception, LCAD students and alumni were sculpting clay models of a nude woman.

Model Rio Poncé was wearing a bikini on Sunday because the public had been invited to watch the young sculptors at work. She posed for seven-minute rotations, then took breaks to ease stiffened muscles.

College alumni Brittany Ryan, a first-time exhibitor at the Festival of Arts this year, Amanda Harrison and Samantha Willson and current students Ry Beloin, Enrique Escobedo and Francisco Areola were among the sculptors whose work was underway.