THE GUILLOTINE: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last No 38: HENRY MOORE
Sunday 26 September 1999
in Jamaica St, EC3
Many of us know instinctively and immediately, even when we first spot it on entering a gallery, if a painting is appealing to us. Our appreciation of sculpture, though, is more problematic, since the history of the form is - again for many if not, of course, all of us - considerably less familiar territory. And the problem is compounded by the fact that, unlike painting, sculpture is frequently an al fresco art. Virtually every day of our lives, as we go about our quotidian business, we stroll past sculptures - in streets, in parks, on industrial or housing estates - without paying them any more attention than we do telephone booths, say, or postboxes. We don't stop in front of them. We don't study their curves and contours, head cocked at a pensive angle. We don't circle them in order to gain the full impact of their three-dimensionality. We tend not even to inspect the accompanying plaque to acquaint ourselves with either the artist's name or that of the work itself.
Was Henry Moore a great sculptor? For the reasons outlined above, most of us could no longer say yea or nay with real assurance. His Polo Mint creations, complete with the inevitable hole in the middle (if one can employ the phrase "complete with" for what is, after all, an absence, a void), have become such a routine element of our environment we no longer notice them. They call to mind the identity of the murderer in G K Chesterton's story "The Invisible Man". It was, as it happens, the postman, an "invisible man" because none of the witnesses interrogated by Father Brown observed, or remembered, him entering the house in which the crime was committed. Open-air sculptures in general, and Moore's in particular, are invisible works of art.
Living in a city is, in a sense, living indoors. Such social creatures have we become that we forget just how artificial is a vast metropolitan complex in which man-made dwellings stretch as far as the eye can see. Unless it chances to be our business, vocation or passion, we have long since ceased to subject our surroundings to aesthetic judgement. And Moore's sculptures, too, have become just another, anonymous part of the urban furniture, like some expensive sofa over whose purchase we once agonised but on which we now curl up every evening before the TV set.
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