Why is Henry Moore so unfashionable? Yes, his work was bombastic and unoriginal: but isn't that also true of today's best loved artists?by Ben Lewis / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
Few artists’ reputations have plummeted more dramatically than Henry Moore’s. In the decades after the second world war, he was regarded as one of the world’s greatest sculptors. “England has not for a very long time possessed a sculptor as inspired, independent and consistent,” Nikolaus Pevsner wrote in 1945. A few years later, Herbert Read said Moore was “the most inventive and experimental sculptor of his time.” By the 1960s, Moore was minted—he paid £1m a year income tax in the mid-1970s and lived on a huge Hertfordshire estate, Hoglands. He virtually invented the market for humongous outdoor sculptures—his reclining figures and mothers-and-children decorate airport forecourts, corporate foyers, public squares and even the entrance to the indoor swimming pool in Wuppertal, Germany. But today Moore is largely dismissed, his oeuvre considered maudlin, repetitive and bombastic. As one critic put it, he is nothing but “a third-rate Picasso.”
The Henry Moore Foundation has just launched a massive counterattack, with an ambitious display of 28 of Moore’s large outdoor sculptures in Kew Gardens. Moore always wanted his works to be seen as part of a landscape—he often photographed them this way—and the Kew installation is breathtaking. As one walks around the botanical gardens, the swollen limbs and twisted heads of Moore’s works bob above the shrubbery, sometimes even the trees, like a Jurassic Park of modernism. In the centre of a smooth lawn amid a clearing of ancient trees sits Large Two Forms, with its weatherbeaten patina, fringed by a bed of soft brown wood shavings. Large Upright Internal/External Form rises up through a long avenue of trees on the way to the pagoda. As you approach it, it looks like an abstract blob, an extraterrestrial giant—Moore’s detractors might say an upended turd—but as one swings round to the sculpture’s front, it reveals its figurative content: a hooded or long-haired maternal figure holding a thin child in a womblike embrace. Groups of visitors cluster around the bases of the larger works like extras on the set of Metropolis. My favourite work is another elongated reclining figure cast in glowing white resin, which sits on the side of Kew’s lake like an inflatable pop Picasso.
Moore was a kind of British David Smith—who is still firmly considered the greatest American sculptor of the 20th century. Depending on your perspective, that is either a…