Urban gardener, Cleve West: Taking their Kew
Saturday 17 November 2007
Mention the words Henry Moore to anyone and they'll almost certainly conjure images of organic mass, dense volume and ambiguous form. For me, however, the forms quickly morph into Jessie, a handsome Staffordshire bull terrier whose owners would walk him to Greenwich Park, around a famous piece by the artist, Standing Figure: Knife Edge, and back. Eventually, over the years, the very words "Henry Moore" would be synonymous with "walkies". Sadly, Jessie is no longer with us and, for Greenwich Park at least, neither is the sculpture, which was removed by the Henry Moore Foundation (HMF) for fears of graffiti. But while negotiations between the Friends of Greenwich Park and the HMF to decide its future continue, the sculpture can temporarily be seen as part of a major exhibition of the artist's work, within The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Fans of Moore's work will almost certainly have flocked to Kew by now, relishing the dazzling autumnal canvas - and no doubt the curators at Kew and the HMF will also be rejoicing in the mutually beneficial collaboration. Both adults and children may never get another chance to experience the artist's work in a setting so convivial.
Most of the work is positioned at the north-eastern end of the garden, dissipating as you venture south and west. Initially I was disappointed by this, but logistics, easy access for visitors and security must have played a part and, despite the perceived concentration of works when looking at the guide map, in reality there is plenty of breathing space between each of the works.
Goslar Warrior guards the southern extremity in front of King William's Temple, a Tuscan portico built to commemorate British military victories from Minden to Waterloo. Large Upright Internal/External doesn't so much punch but gorges its way skyward using not only the space in the centre of Pagoda Avenue but the dynamics of an adjacent cedar. Locking Piece, familiar to most Londoners, looks just as comfortable on a hillock as in its permanent (and more pertinent) home at Millbank, from where prisoners were once transported to Australia.
Out of the corner of your eye you might think you've seen your cue for the next piece, but be prepared to be fooled by a tree trunk, such as Kew's famous Sophora japonica, that has metal supports for its wandering branches. Kew's backdrop energises each piece, for Moore's cue is from Nature. Simple or complex, the interweaving shapes that hold, connect, cradle and nurture battle with notions of tension and division. The embodiment of life. Gardeners with an aversion or ambivalence towards Moore's work might find the display of maquettes, sketches and other items in the Nash Conservatory revelatory. It shows how natural forms such as trees, shells and skeletal relics were the core from which his ideas were modelled.
The beauty, of course, is that there are no signs to say "Keep off the Grass", so you can walk close and around each piece and get to know its more intimate parts. Needless to say, children love it too. Friends of Greenwich Park know this and are naturally concerned that Standing Figure: Knife Edge will not be returned when the exhibition concludes. Their trump card is that Moore chose the piece and the site himself in 1976, firmly believing that both sculpture and setting can benefit from thoughtful positioning.
Frost, mist and (if we're lucky) snow will keep us coming back to Kew before narcissi herald the end of what is almost certainly the garden's most inspired exhibition to date. If you haven't been yet - go. If you have - go again, for it's impossible to savour the unique experience in one viewing.
For more information visit www.kew.org
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