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Friday, 26 February 2010

Exhibition - Henry Moore at Tate Britain

Star rating – 7/10

Henry Moore’s huge public sculptures are so common amongst our urban landscapes that as a nation we may have started to take his work for granted, given his ‘national treasure’ status. This new exhibition of some of his smaller works from the 1920’s to 1960’s at Tate Britain aims to refocus our collective minds on what a genius he was, and to remind us that he was quite a radical in his day. It features over 150 sculptures and drawings by Moore that really bring him to life for the visitor.

The rooms are organised into the different mediums that Moore worked with, marble; stone; elm and ink. The first room includes a small marble piece of a dog from 1922 which is quite angular, and beautifully crafted. His fixation with the theme of maternity is highlighted by a whole room in this collection being dedicated to the theme. The mothers with their smooth lines, ample breasts and featureless faces cradle suckling infants. I particularly noticed the ‘Mother and Child’ piece from 1924-25 that shows a mother with her child on her shoulders, and is on loan for this exhibition from none other than our own Manchester Art Gallery.

Many of his figures have a very sexual feel to them – he loves to show women in reclining poses, again with his trademark smooth lines and flowing forms. But the sculptures always feel sympathetic rather than exploitative.

One of the most interesting rooms for me is the collection of paintings from wartime, when he temporarily abandoned sculpture for painting. The pictures show almost skeletal bodies huddled together in underground stations, sheltering from the air raids. The ‘Two Sleepers in the Underground’ is particularly evocative, but Moore did not paint these from life, but his own experiences in the trenches during the First World War. Also in this room are wonderful pictures of coalminers, working deep underground, like his own father had done.

In the post war period Moore became very concerned about the prospect of nuclear annihilation, and reflected this worry in his work. The ‘Atom Piece’ in bronze from 1964-65 is especially effective, where his same sleek lines and smooth sculpture belie the potential destructive powers of the object.

The last room is of larger works done in elm, and they clearly show Moore’s love for the medium, with their beautiful grain evident and the lines of his chisel left for all to see.

This collection clearly demonstrates that Moore was a radical artist who had a darker side, as well as the creator of smooth gigantic urban sculptures for our towns and cities. Alongside the artists pushing the boundaries of sculpture today, such as Anish Kapoor, it is good to be reminded of that.

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