Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Henry Moore Exhibit coming to the Art Gallery of Ontario gives insight into Moore's troubled soul

Henry Moore: Reclining figure, 1975.

Article by Martin Knelman,
Toronto Star.

So you think you have already had your fill of Henry Moore, the famous sculptor from Yorkshire whose mammoth sculptures have been proudly showcased for decades at the Art Gallery of Ontario?

Prepare to have your preconceptions shattered.

Get ready to meet the darker, edgier, more erotic and complex Moore of his earlier work — and the demons that became invisible in the later work that made him safe and popular.

A revisionist show will open at the AGO on Oct. 23 after closing in London, where it is currently drawing crowds to the Tate Britain in London. And it will introduce Toronto to the younger, more troubled Henry Moore who disappeared into the shadows before he created The Archer for our city hall. The show is the latest in a strikingly strong program of temporary exhibits of wide public interest, which includes the forthcoming “Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts,” “Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre” and the current King Tut exhibit.

“If you think you already know Henry Moore, this will be a mind-blower,” promises AGO curator Michael Parke-Taylor, who collaborated on the exhibition with Chris Stephens of the Tate Britain.

According to Stephens, this is a chance to revisit the legacy of Moore — a working-class son of a Yorkshire mining engineer. Before being embraced by the bourgeoisie, he was a socialist and a pacifist.

The new exhibit of 40 never-before-seen pieces at the AGO is meant to show that there was a lot more to the famous artist (who died in 1986) than large rounded female figures and abstract forms.

That’s why Richard Calvocoressi, director of the Henry Moore Foundation, has described this as the most important exhibit of Moore’s work in the 33-year history of his organization.

The AGO version will not be nearly as large as the exhibit at the Tate, which includes many works from the period that is already familiar to those who visit the AGO.

That’s because in his latter years, there was a nasty spat over Moore’s plan to give the Tate the sculptures that now belong to the AGO. The Tate was going to create a new wing for the Moore works, and that drew a bitter response from other artists. In 1968, the year of Moore’s 70th birthday, a letter denouncing the plan for a Moore wing appeared in The Times, signed by 41 artists.

By then, Moore’s popularity had made him contemptible in the eyes of his peers. His enormous sculptures, which seemed to be appearing in public squares and parks everywhere, were seen as complacent, soothing, commercial. They were considered too big, too ubiquitous and too serene. In the view of the art-world elite, Moore had become too popular and beloved — the reassuring favourite of millions who knew little about art but knew what they liked.

Moore’s reaction to the piece was to turn to Toronto, where he had become a bit of a folk hero after Phil Givens (the city’s mayor from 1963-66) commissioned him to create The Archer.

And so it came to pass that in 1974, Moore thumbed his nose at the London art world by donating 900 works to the AGO.

“The show at the Tate takes Moore up to the mid-1960s,” says Parke-Taylor. “The two museums have slightly different agendas, and I have been a bit more selective.”

Because the AGO already has a strong group of Moore’s post-1945 work in its permanent collection, it will focus in this temporary exhibit on the Moore of the 1920s and 1930s.

“Our goal is to put Moore back into his historical context. He is darker than you think. He fought in World War I, and survived a battle in which 350 men out of 400 were killed. This had a huge effect on him,” says Parke-Taylor. “He picked up on aspect of surrealism. He developed an abstract view of the boy that came out of experiencing trench warfare. And there were sexual implications.”

Or as Stephens writes in an essay for the exhibition catalogue: “In contrast to the dominant view of Moore, we propose that he presented the body as abject, erotic, vulnerable, violated and visceral.”

Appreciation to Martin Knelman of the Toronto Star for this March 31, byline

Please click here to see Martin's article, at source.

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