Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Tate's Henry Moore exhibition tries too hard

There is a barely disguised snobbism in Tate Britain’s Henry Moore exhibition, which opened in London this week. Until the sculptor’s death in 1986, no public space at home or abroad seemed complete without a monumental Moore reclining figure or mother and child. Whereas Picasso’s modern art would be the target of misplaced ridicule, the public got Henry Moore and liked what they saw. Holes in torsos and all.
Chris Stephens, curator of the Tate show, feels it incumbent to accentuate the “radical, experiment and avant garde Henry Moore and “re-assert his position at the forefront of progressive twentieth-century sculpture.”
“This exhibition will emphasise the impact on Moore’s work of its historical and intellectual contexts: the trauma of war, the advent of psychoanalysis and new ideas of sexuality, and the influence of primitive art and surrealism,” he says.
This is arrogance taken to the nth degree. Moore is the most accessible of artists. With jutting breasts and penile heads, he doesn’t require anyone to shed light on the dark and erotically charged aspects of his work.
It is as though excuses need to be made for the life of the scandal-free bluff Yorkshireman. How better it would be if Moore had, say, cut his ear off in a fit of despair – or better still cut of someone else’s.
So what we get for our £12.50 (concessions £11) are 150 stone sculptures, woodcarvings, bronzes and drawings crammed into a half-dozen unsympathetic rooms. It is impossible to view any single piece without the eye being distracted by another work. The overall effect is that the sculptures tend to negate each other when gathered so closely together.
Henry Moore, the man, is hardly present. It would have been better to include a short film about the different techniques he employed in his art. I suspect that Charles Saatchi would have made a better fist of the show. Especially so when displaying the exhibition’s star turns – a set of reclining figures carved in Elmwood and his Official War Artist drawings of Londoners sheltering from the Blitz.
Even though this isn’t the exhibition Britain’s most famous sculptor deserves, his skill, his love of materials and humankind makes it worth a visit to Tate Britain. The show runs until August 8th.

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