Thursday, 25 February 2010


Just recently I was moaning about the lack of cool stuff in Victoria – I completely forgot about the Tate. Probably because I haven’t been to any exhibitions there for a while (that Francis Bacon one would have been the last). When I’m old and living somewhere far less exciting I’ll think back to the days when I could take in an exhibition of one of the world’s greatest sculptors in my lunchbreak.

The exhibition was Henry Moore. I’ve seen his sculptures scattered about here and there in the great outdoors – they had a load in Kew Gardens last summer I think, 20 of them (I found about 15). From time to time you hear about these outdoor pieces being stolen. I always imagine it ending up in some Japanese businessman’s lair. Or will they be going to Russian Oligarchs now?

The first text display states that Moore, like a lot of his contemporaries, was strongly influenced by non western sculpture – the African section of the British Museum providing much inspiration. And almost straightaway I was struck by how much one of his reclining figures resembled a
Chac Mool figure from Mexico.

The most obvious thing about most of his sculptures is their sheer weirdness. In a nightmare these things might suddenly rear up at you Twilight Zone style with a discordant blast of trumpets. After the initial shock though there’s a mournful quality to many of them. Their tiny little eyes look dumbly up at you – none of the statues looks as though it might speak or make any noise at all – in fact I think only one was equipped with a mouth.

There was one statue, one of the full reclining figures that looked serene rather than stoical. Its features consisted of the merest suggestion of some eyes and rather than being unformed they gave instead the impression of having been eroded away. The day before I’d been flipping through a book and had seen a picture of Uluru. It was a close up showing a stream that had carved the warm rock into gently curved basins. It was reminiscent of that. The unsettling nature of Moore's work is attributed to his reflecting the age he lived in so it's perhaps surprising that this particular statue was created in 1938, could there be a more fateful year?

My favourite of the reclining figures is one of plaster completed in 1951. All his statues seem alien to varying degrees but this one looks the most likely to stride down the gangplank of a flying saucer. He must have influenced
Richard M Powers. Maybe it's the finish of the plaster or the etched lines (like circuitry) which make it look more artificial than a lot of his other things. The lines on this were actually string that had been stuck on. This puzzled me a bit as it seemed a fiddly way to achieve the effect - then it occurred to me that this was probably a model for an eventual bronze casting on which the lines would cut into the surface.

In the same room, and for me the best piece in the exhibition, is Warrior with Shield. There's something so satisfyingly solid about its amphibian head and the way the shield hooks over the arm and is gripped by its strap. It's a bronze but unlike many of the others its surface is rough - it looks as though it's hewn from wood. Finished in 1954, with its raised shield and hacked off limbs it's the most obviously post war thing in the show.


  1. I shall be off to this, yessir.

  2. I can't recommend it highly enough, did that come across? I was in there for about an hour and a half and would have stayed longer but for work. I just couldn't look at the Warrior with Shield and the reclining plaster figure enough (both in the Post War room).