Sculpture is an art of the open air. Daylight, sunlight, is necessary to it, and for me its best setting and complement is nature. I would rather have a piece of my sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in, or on, the most beautiful building I know.
-- Henry Moore
This is an important statement to consider when visiting Late Large Forms, Gagosian's current exhibition, held at their space on Britannia Street and run in conjunction with the Henry Moore Foundation. It is a show that gambles on one very simple and very direct curatorial conceit. Here are placed nine Moore sculptures from the latter half of his career, a period during which he was able to fully realise, through reputation and resources, a desire to work at a much-increased scale. The crux is that those on display have not been shown inside a gallery before. It is in view of this one decision, relayed against Moore's own opinions as to the correct context for his work that this entire exhibition’s prospect rests.
These works are not rare examples of type. Because of Moore’s position within the canon of twentieth-century sculpture, as well as what could be phrased, either positively or negatively, as his sculptures' 'universal' appeal, he is one of the most visible practitioners that Britain has produced in the modern period. Both nationally and internationally, Moore’s sculptures are less an addition to and more a prerequisite for many galleries' collections. Of equal importance, from mid-century onwards, his work became the apparent ornament of choice for the approach to many a corporate or state headquarter. If there is one challenge in showing Moore's work, it is to make it unfamiliar. In this, at the very least, Gagosian succeeds.
On entering you are immediately confronted by Reclining Figure: Hand. Pushed up behind the staircase, you might also notice Seated Woman: Thin Neck. These take little advantage of their setting and so, in the context of this exhibition, are largely uninteresting. If they serve any practical purpose it is to quickly re-introduce Moore, his handling of form and texture, before you venture into less stable territory. This begins in the next, smaller room, where two reclining figure pieces appear to be backing away as if trapped. There is a general uneasiness about them - as if their organic aspect has somehow been affronted - that makes them strangely unappealing, if no less interesting.
It is the enormous open space of the rear gallery that holds the main attractions, however. Large Two Forms, its interlocking masses challenging the architecture of the building itself for supremacy, greets you with a sullen, placid tension. Reaching out to your left, several more sculptures repeat this moment of perturbing misrecognition. With the skylights casting a flat, static glow across its surface, Moore’s bronze is less animated, less giving. It is as if his biomorphic forms have been sedated and prepared for examination.
The encroaching walls combine with the size of the work to create a medium from the air it displaces. With this emphasis on negative space, that which is caught between each sculpture and the sheer planes of the gallery is made of equal importance to the work itself. Because of this, though the room is not nearly filled, there is a risk of suffocation. The whitewash that dresses those planes, its fine white powder, offers a moment of comparison to Moore’s range of surface treatment that these works have not previously been subject to. They feel effusive, luxurious, and even a little sickly. As a general point of reference, the texture of the walls sets each sculpture not only against itself, but also against the others.
Not least of all is the way the artist’s work is made the subject of sound. This room, with its arrangement of broad, hard surfaces, is naturally attuned to the creation of an echo. Inserted into this haze of vibration, the size and material of Moore’s work mean that they begin to act as baffles, bending, cupping and directing that sound. It is entirely possible to explore the rear gallery by closing your eyes and stepping heavily against the polished concrete floor. After some time you will begin to recognise, appearing out of the resultant noise pattern, an aural image of Moore’s work that few will have had the opportunity to appreciate: awkward specters that lurch suddenly into apprehension before fading back into the clean, bright static.
Late Large Forms does not treat Moore’s work gently, but then what would be the purpose of that? His sculpture has had much of its vibrant energy suppressed, but in exchange we are given new opportunity for precise and sometimes uncomfortable analysis. Here Moore is laid up on the table, hovering close to unconsciousness, and we must not be afraid to take on the role of clinician.
Everything I do, I intend to make on a large scale... Size itself has its own impact, and physically we can relate ourselves more strongly to a big sculpture than to a small one.
Gagosian Gallery, in collaboration with The Henry Moore Foundation, is pleased to present a major exhibition of large-scale sculptures by Henry Moore, some of which are being presented indoors for the first time.
Moore’s oeuvre, emblematic of modern British sculpture, is informed by elements of the abstract, the surreal, the primitive, and the classical. His rolling corporeal forms are as accessible and familiar as they are distinctly avant-garde. Moore’s first solo sculpture exhibition was held in London in 1928; by the late 1940s he had become one of Britain’s most celebrated artists with a diverse oeuvre that encompassed drawings, graphics, textiles, and sculpture. In the following decades he continued to receive increasingly significant sculpture commissions, following a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1946 and winning the international prize at the Venice Biennale in 1948. His heightened success and fame provided him with the means to work increasingly in bronze rather than direct carving, thus achieving the monumental scale that he had always desired for his work. His large-scale sculptures have been placed in indoor and outdoor environments all over the world including Kenwood House, London; Dallas City Hall Plaza; Tiergarten, Berlin; the University of Chicago; Exchange Square, Hong Kong; UNESCO headquarters, Paris; Lincoln Center, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the United Nations Headquarters, New York; the Houses of Parliament, London; St Paul’s Cathedral, London; and the City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima.
Moore’s large-scale sculptures celebrated the beauty and power of organic forms at a time when traditional representation was largely eschewed by the vanguard art establishment. Their prodigious size and forceful presence have an overwhelming physicality that promotes a charged relation between sculpture, site, and viewer. In Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (1960) the rough texture of the patinated dark surface infuses the large corpus with a certain brutalism, the stunted head and blocky limbs akin to arched geological formations, weathered from time immemorial. Reclining Figure: Hand (1979) is immediately identifiable as a human form despite its modulated stylization; the softly rounded, cloud-like body attests to Moore’s more exploratory impulses when compared to Large Four Piece Reclining Figure(1972–73) and Reclining Connected Forms (1969), where he alludes to body parts using the vocabulary of mechanical components. Large Two Forms (1966) and Large Spindle Piece(1974) evidence an interest in both natural and man-made objects.
It was Moore’s intention that these large-scale forms be interacted with, viewed close-up, and even touched. In order that their heft and mass be perceived in myriad of settings, they were most commonly placed outdoors, subject to the effects of changing light, seasons, and terrain. Within the controlled white environment of the gallery space, the sheer volume and mammoth proportions of the sculptures are more keenly felt. Brimming with latent energy, their richly textured surfaces and sensual, rippling arcs and concavities can be seen to new effect.
A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition, featuring essays by Anita Feldman and Anne Wagner.
Henry Moore was born in West Yorkshire, England in 1898 and died in East Hertfordshire, England in 1986. His public commissions occupy university campuses, pastoral expanses and major urban centers in 38 countries around the world. His sculpture and drawings have been the subject of many museum exhibitions and retrospectives, including the Tate Gallery, London (1951); Whitechapel Gallery, London (1957); Tate Gallery, London (1968); Forte di Belvedere, Florence (1972); Tate Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery, London for the occasion of Moore’s eightieth birthday (1978); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1983); Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield (1987); Royal Academy of Arts (1988); Shanghai Art Museum (2001); Henry Moore, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (2001); CaixaForum, Barcelona, (2008); Kunsthal, Rotterdam (2006, travelled to Didrichsen Museum, Helsinki in 2008); Kew Botanical Gardens, London (2007–08); Tate Britain (2010); Kremlin Museum, Moscow (2012).
The Henry Moore Foundation was founded by Moore in 1977 to increase public enjoyment of the arts, especially sculpture. Today it opens his restored Hertfordshire home, studios and sculpture grounds to the public, tours the world's largest collection of his work, and runs sculpture exhibitions and research at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. It also supports sculpture through an active grants programme. For 2012, The Foundation has launched Henry Moore Friends, an opportunity to help promote the artist's legacy.
Gagosian Gallery: Britannia Street6-24 Britannia Street
London Greater London United Kingdom WC1X 9JD