Thursday, 11 March 2010
Henry Moore-the Death of Imagination
I don’t know much about art but I know what I like, so the cliché goes. My version goes like this: I know quite a lot about art and I know what I hate. And what I have particular hatred for is the fraudulent, the talentless and the bogus. I hate those who are accepted as good and lasting simply because the art establishment says they will be good and lasting. It is the classic tale of the emperor’s new clothes. Only those with no taste could fail to see the merit in, say, Damien Hirst; only those with no taste could fail to see the merit in the sculptures of Henry Moore. I loathe the sculptures of Henry Moore, those ghastly blobs that inhabit city centres across the world. There; the child has spoken!
I make this confession against the background of a major exhibition of Moore’s work in the Tate, running until the beginning of August. I went, I saw, I left. Not that I expected to be convinced that the time had come to look again at an artist whose work is rather falling out of fashion. No, I suppose it was just to confirm a prejudice, not against contemporary sculpture, just against Henry Moore. There they are all lined up, those graceless shapes, not ugly, just pointless, a confirmation of how little talent the man truly had.
Please do not assume this arises from an animus against forms of art which do not adhere to traditional classical forms. No, there is a lot that I admire in artists who break conventional boundaries. I admire the work of Barbara Hepworth and I adore the Futurists, having a particular love of Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.
Then there is Moore; shapes struggling for life and never quite getting there; lumpy and leaden and almost completely devoid of imagination, of truly creative intellect. There is no animation, there is no focus; there is just the same thing, time after time. No matter the subject it gets the same treatment to the point it becomes meaningful to say that if you have seen one sculpture by Moore you have seen them all; reclining figure, king and queen, mother and child, no matter; you’ve seen them all. It’s a bit like a pianist who was never able to progress much beyond chopsticks.
There is nothing in Moore that challenges, nothing that demands a second look. The curators describe his work as “abject, erotic, violated and visceral”, which seems to me to be just a succession of rather meaningless words. One review I read asked how they could possibly tell. My comment is simpler; if they think this stuff is ‘erotic’ they really need to get out more. But Moore became the fashion of the age, a comment less about art and more about the age, more about the death of imagination.