Essays by James Hyman

Henry Moore - Sculpting the Century

Henry Moore - Sculpting the Century


Sculpting the Century
Book Reviews by James Hyman

TEXT EXTRACT: Moore. Sculpting the Century is a handsome publication that combines plentiful illustrations with a wide range of essays that shed new light on the artist. This is no mean achievement given the seemingly endless flow of new publications and exhibitions devoted to the artist. Published to accompany a massive retrospective that during 2001-2002 traveled to Dallas Museum of Art, the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the book benefits from the fact that this exhibition took place in America and drew on a wealth of North American collections, whose works by Moore are too little known. Indeed, although the Henry Moore Foundation was extremely generous in its loans, one of the delights of this publication is this wealth of unfamiliar visual material.

A photographic section at the beginning and an illustrated essay at the end look at Moore's own photographs of his sculpture and usefully frame the analysis in the body of the publication. The issues raised by these photographs provide a useful approach to works that at times seem over-familiar. Moore made extensive use of photographs not only to document a sculpture and record its evolution, but also as a working tool and as Elizabeth Browne's essay demonstrates, these photographs were particularly helpful in helping Moore assess how a figure might look at different scales. Through the careful positioning of tiny maquettes, either on a neutral background or on a garden wall, Moore used photography to bestow epic proportions on tiny works, thereby gaining a sense of their impact when enlarged and situated in a landscape. Brown also traces how important the photographic presentation of Moore's sculpture has been to its perceived meaning and shows that photographic reproductions encouraged comparisons to be drawn with Miro and Brancusi. To her research, I would suggest that Moore's photography, and specifically the forms of distortion encouraged by close-up and wide-angle viewpoints, echoes Bill Brandt's celebrated black and white photographs of nudes and of stones. In each case much of the form's power derives from its implied or actual anamorphism, from the suggestion that if only we can find the right viewpoint everything will spring into focus. This, combined with the fact that the camera has a fixed viewpoint, poses major questions about Moore's conception of sculpture as an object to be viewed in the round. Indeed, I would argue that a reading of Moore's distortion as anamorphic is crucial to our experience of his sculptures (with the exception of certain frontal groups such as his Mother and Child images of the early 1950s). The fact that Moore adopts this convention but leaves our desire for resolution unfulfilled, suggests that he learnt much from Giacometti's surrealist strategies in presenting psycho-sexual dramas, in which longing is never satisfied. Certainly, as we walk around a sculpture by Moore, as with a surrealist object by Giacometti, there is often a thrilling sense of frustration as the subjects fails ever fully to reveal itself.

The range of viewpoints provided by the other contributors to this publication cannot be adequately covered in a short review, but in selecting some of their essays, one general point can be made: so focused is scholarship today, that it is commonplace that once someone has made the subject their known they are commissioned repeatedly to write on it. This may provide a welcome opportunity for research to be extended, as with Robert Burstow's numerous essays on the sources of sponsorship for the sculpture competition for a Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner in 1952-53, each of which takes a small step forward in our knowledge of the subject, but it can also lead to repetition and the reworking of familiar material.

A couple of examples from Sculpting the Century show this tendency at its best and worst. Anita Feldman Bennet's fascinating essay on Moore's activities as a collector builds positively from her contribution to a Henry Moore symposium at the University of East Anglia in 1996 and her essay in Spanish in Henry Moore. Hacia el Futuro, a catalogue which accompanied an exhibition which toured South America in 1997. However, Alan Wilkinson's Moore: A Modernist's 'Primitivism , although extremely insightful, lifts at times directly from an earlier essay by the author without making any acknowledgement of this. This is all the more surprising given that Sculpting the Century is an American publication and Wilkinson's earlier essay appeared in the two volume catalogue for one of the most ambitious exhibitions ever staged by the Museum of Modern Art, New York Primitivism in 20th Century Art (1984).

Julian Andrew's brief text, Henry Moore: The War Years , also covers terrain that is charted elsewhere, but in this case his brief text provides a taster for a newly published study, London's War. The Shelter Drawings of Henry Moore (2002). A specialist on artist's responses to the Second World War, Andrews has previously written about the work of Graham Sutherland and his new book on Moore is an excellent study that not only details the artist's response to the war but also addresses the status of his celebrated Shelter drawings. Andrews considers not only their place in Moore's own work but also their relationship to that of his contemporaries and provides a fascinating insight into the way that myth-making about the heroicism of citizens during the Blitz had began as early as 1940 and informed Moore's own mythologizing of these figures. However, in comparison to the exemplary illustrations in Sculpting the Century, this new publication is let down by the variable quality of its reproductions, this despite the fact that the majority of these works come from sketchbooks in the possession of the British Museum and the Henry Moore Foundation.

Sculpting the Century is also to be recommended for the way that it addresses Moore's reputation. This is the explicit subject of both Dorothy Kosinski and David Cohen's essays, which are complimentary, but do at times overlap, as in their responses to Anish Kapoor. Kosinky provides fresh insights into responses to Moore from America in terms of a US understanding of Modernism and Moore's uneasy relationship to this, whilst Cohen focuses on British responses. Nonetheless, both these essays left me wanting more: in fact, what would be particularly revealing is to turn the question on its head to consider not what subsequent generations took from Moore but what he took from them. Whilst much is made about Moore's internationalism in the 1930s and his relationship to surrealism and abstraction, a sense of such symbiosis is virtually absent from discussion of Moore's later work. This inadvertently marginalises Moore's later work and obscures its continuing development and distinctive qualities. There has been much written on how subsequent generations from the Geometry of Fear sculptors in the 1950s, to Caro in the 1960s and Kapoor, Cragg and Deacon since the 1970s rejected Moore, but there has been less analysis of his responses to them. It may well be that in Moore's increasingly hermetic later years he reworked earlier themes, but he was also pushing in new directions that suggest that he was looking outwards as well as inwards. Indeed, if there is one fault in this superb study it is its relatively cursory treatment of Moore's work since the 1960s.

But, all in all, these books are to be highly recommended, the one for its range, the other for its focus. In each case an artist, who at times seems over-familiar emerges looking more complex and profound, his reputation not just intact but enhanced.

(ed.) Dorothy Kosinski, Henry Moore. Sculpting the Century, Dallas Museum of Art/Yale University Press, 2001.

Julian Andrews, London's War. The Shelter Drawings of Henry Moore, Lund Humphries, 2002.

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