Henry Moore’s sculpture in parks and other public spaces is so ubiquitous, his place in the canon of twentieth-century British art so central, that I visited the show of his late, large-scale sculptures
at London’s Gagosian Gallery with no expectation of surprise. But the exhibition is surprising: the nine mammoth sculptures on view correct any misapprehensions that Moore was somehow just knocking them out by rote at the end of his career, instead suggesting that the Yorkshire-born artist gained in ambition in his last two decades, using his financial success to project his ideas on a visionary scale.
Henry Moore, 'Large Four Piece Reclining Figure', 1972-73 and 'Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 2', 1960. Photo: Mike Bruce. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation.
By seeing these works indoors without distraction in the neutral light of Gagosian’s huge spaces, rather than outdoors in the natural environment, one senses even more keenly the expressive shapes, volume and texture of his forms. The highly polished, golden surface of his four-metre wide bronze Large Four Piece Reclining Figure (1972–73), for example, stands out so much against the white walls that its biomorphic shapes seem as though dropped from space. The sci-fi meets the surreal in Large Spindle Piece (1974), in which the anxiety-laden aesthetic of Moore’s pre-war works is revisited on a scale that causes shivers.
Henry Moore, 'Large Spindle Piece', 1974 and 'Two Piece Reclining Figure: Cut', 1979-81. Photo: Mike Bruce. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation.
The startling scale also allows a revision of his characteristic theme of landscape: at such size, some of his works don’t just resemble landscape but become landscapes themselves. One can continually circle around the largest piece on view – Large Two Forms (1966), in which two four-metre-high body-part-like volumes interlock – without ever being able to see the work in its entirety. Like the huge rock outcrops and cliffs of the Yorkshire Dales, the secrets of its form and fabrication remain hidden from view.
Henry Moore, 'Large Two Forms', 1966. Photo: Mike Bruce. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation.
- 'Henry Moore: Late Large Forms' at Gagosian Gallery,
6-24 Britannia Street, until 18 August 2012
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine