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July 22 2012

Two men charged with theft of Henry Moore sundial sculpture

Liam Hughes, 22, and Jason Parker, 19, accused of taking artwork, worth up to £500,00, from artist's former home in Hertforshire

Two men have been charged with the theft of a sculpture taken from the former home of British artist Henry Moore.

Hertfordshire police said Liam Hughes, 22, and 19-year-old Jason Parker had both been charged with stealing the sundial sculpture and a bronze plinth.

The sundial, created by Moore in 1965 as a working model for a larger sculpture, was taken from the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, overnight between 10 and 11 July.

Said to be worth up to £500,000, the distinctive artwork was found at an undisclosed location after a televised appeal for information last Thursday.

Hughes and Parker, both of Coltsfield, Stansted, Essex, have been bailed to appear before magistrates in Stevenage on 3 August. A third man, aged 22 and also from Stansted, has been released without charge. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 25 2012

This week's new exhibitions

Tracey Emin, Margate

Tracey Emin's first big show in her old home Margate must surely feel like a milestone for Britart's original bad girl. The story of underage sex and one fateful seaside dance competition, which is recounted in her brilliant Why I Never Became A Dancer, set the tone for a bittersweet relationship with the troubled seaside town which has been played out in various works over the years since. Where that early video ended in a celebratory "fuck you" to her past, what she offers here suggests that Emin has definitely moved on. The exhibition is dominated by Emin's scratchy, scribbly nudes, dashed off in pencil and blue watercolour, or stitched in fine, spidery thread and accompanied here and there by textual outbursts: "I didn't say I couldn't love you" reads one. These are paired with a choice selection of drawings by Rodin, whose intimate studies of the female form make an intriguing and stunning counterpoint to Emin's assertive vision of her own sexuality.

Turner Contemporary, Sat to 23 Sep


ON: A Re-imagining Of Blackpool Illuminations, Blackpool

Anyone who considers that multimedia, site-specific installations are something culturally new should catch the Blackpool illuminations, which will be 100 years old this autumn. For many impressionable juvenile souls like myself, the lights were our first experience of art as pure amazement. They can also be seen as postmodern: a bizarre assemblage of historical samplings from cartoon teddies to giant Tiffany lamps, from ancient Greece to B-movie sci-fi. Here, artist Brian Griffiths celebrates the centenary by creating his own version of the annual spectacle inside the Grundy.

Grundy Art Gallery, to 28 Jul

Robert Clark

Henry Moore, London

The most frequent complaint levelled at Henry Moore's sculpture is how ubiquitous it is. Up to his death in 1986, his huge public commissions erupted across the world from London to Dallas, Berlin to Hong Kong. In parks, plazas, outside or atop buildings, they seem as easy to miss as streetlights. This show redresses the balance, with late works of the 1960s and 1970s brought indoors and centre stage. Working in bronze meant Moore could go big, and these smooth, prehistoric-looking sculptures, largely culled from the grounds of Much Hadham's Henry Moore Foundation, are the size of Fred Flintstone's house. They come in rippling shapes like the sea-washed bones of some primeval giant or, as with his Large Spindle Piece, horned like a rhino.

Gagosian Britannia Street, WC1, Thu to 18 Aug


Simon Fujiwara, Cork

The British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara's Museum Of Incest is a bizarre amalgam of historical fact and dreamed-up fictions. Staged as a series of museum exhibits, complete with glass vitrine cases and carefully labelled specimens, the work appears to be an "authoritative" history of the human race that claims with deadpan conviction that without incest there would be no humankind. There are archaeological curios and autobiographical souvenirs, accounts of a visit to the "Cradle of Mankind" burial site of the earliest human ancestors in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and assorted newspaper cuttings: "Oldest Footprint Found"; "Man's Dread Of Incest A Deeply Rooted Feeling". The whole thing would be plain daft, of course, if it were not for Fujiwara's attention to detail, his precise balancing of truth and lies, and his ongoing ability to suspend disbelief through pure, persuasive cheek.

Crawford Art Gallery, to 27 Jun


Heatherwick Studio, London

Thomas Heatherwick is no longer the bright upstart of British design. He's one of its major talents, as this survey of his tirelessly inventive career is set to affirm. Londoners will know him through projects like his Rolling Bridge, a hexagonal box that unfurls to cross the Grand Union canal at Paddington Basin; and most recently his revamped hop-on-hop-off Routemaster buses. Heatherwick, though, has a feel for the playful as much as the practical. His designs include a spinning chair that dips backwards like a funfair ride, and his award-winning British pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai Expo, which wore a shaggy coat of light-reflecting rods so it seemed one part sea anemone, one part fibre optic lamp. As with many designers-cum-architects, some of Heatherwick's most interesting projects are yet to be made, like his Teesside biomass-fuelled power station: a silvery, space-age volcano on a tiny island.

V&A, SW7, Thu to 30 Sep


Zed Nelson, Henry Tonks, Durham

A thought-provoking pairing of Zed Nelson's photography of the worldwide beauty and cosmetics industry with medical drawings by the Slade School lecturer, painter and first world war medical corps volunteer Henry Tonks. Tonks's cataloguing of the facial injuries suffered by soldiers presage Francis Bacon's paintings by some 50 years. Set against such disturbances, Nelson's beauty queens and bodybuilders – sourced from 18 countries across five continents – come across as all the more interestingly perverse.

DLI Museum & Durham Art Gallery, to 24 Jun


Doris Salcedo, London

Silence roars in Doris Salcedo's art, be it the untold inequality of the voiceless oppressed or the quiet of unmarked graves. As with the great, zigzagging crack in the floor of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall five years ago, she addresses the hush that descends after the violent act. Plegaria Muda, a major installation featuring pairs of reconfigured coffin-sized tables that was begun in 2004 and is shown in an amended form here, is a response to her research into life in Los Angeles ghettos as well as into the deaths of over 1,500 Colombian men, cajoled into joining the army and then murdered as reported guerrillas. The funereal furniture is paired with a new installation, A Flor de Piel, a shroud of thousands of rose petals.

White Cube Mason's Yard, SW1 to 30 Jun


Laura Belém, York

Laura Belém's The Temple Of A Thousand Bells finds its perfect home in the medieval ambience of York St Mary's. Belém has stated she wants to touch the viewer's "inner score" with the work and it does strike one with a hush of silent enchantment. A thousand cast glass clapper-less bells hang by nylon threads from the church's ceiling in a kind of ghostly carillon. The muted underwater atmosphere of the piece is derived from a legend about a sailor trying to listen in to an island temple that had sunk below the ocean. Belém's installations depend on the precise placement of elements within sites that set the scene for a freeform lyrical reverie.

York St Mary's, to 4 Nov

RC © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Exhibitionist: The week's art shows in pictures

From a satirical Museum of Incest in Cork to Tracey Emin's mega Margate homecoming, find out what's happening in art around the country

May 22 2012

Magic sisters realise Chelsea Flower Show golden dream

The all-powerful Brontes sweep rivals aside as Yorkshire gets its long-for top medal at last

They tried ever so hard once, and got silver. Then they tried ever so hard again, and got silver again. But this year the Yorkshire garden at Chelsea has finally achieved its ambition, and been awarded a Royal Horticultural Society gold medal.

That's what the biggest and brashest of England's counties naturally expects; (actually – interesting fact - historic Yorkshire also contains England's second-biggest county: the West Riding on its own beats Devon, Lincolnshire and other such rivals). But the organisers made the mistake of not enlisting the magical powers of the Mighty Sisters until now.

In 2010, the garden was themed on rhubarb and custard, picking up the lore and legend of the 'rhubarb-growing triangle' between Wakefield, Pontefract and Leeds. Last year, a rather architectural construction of drystone walls and the like drew on Yorkshire Artists, with references to David Hockney, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

But at last, this year, Charlotte, Emily and Bronte appeared in a dream to Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire which organises the garden, and said: "Daft ha'porth. It's us you need."

So it has proved. The massive metropolitan cliché mill grinds out unswerving descriptions of the sisters and their moors as wuthering and howling, but we who live here know better. Charlotte herself wrote of Emily after her death and how:

There is not a knoll of heather, not a branch of fern, not a young bilberry leaf, not a fluttering lark or linnet, but reminds me of her

And Emily carolled in one of her perhaps less original poems:

May flowers are opening
And leaves unfolding free
There are bees in every blossom
And birds in every tree.

Anyway, Verity arose and his staff carried out the ghostly instructions, recreating the 'Bronte bridge' which crosses the Bronte beck by the Bronte waterfalls on the way to Top Withens (aka Wuthering Heights) above the sisters' home village of Haworth. They also crammed in a goodly stock of plants, making the composition more garden than artificial construction. Although the Brontes were not actually very good gardeners themselves, as the Guardian Northerner recently described, they would surely have approved.

Verity says:

The garden has had a non-stop stream of admirers since The Chelsea Flower Show opened but this was the ultimate goal, taking gold back to Yorkshire. This is the third time we've entered and we're delighted to be going home with a gold medal for the first time. We hope to convert thousands of well-wishers into tourists over the course of the week.

Tracy Foster, the garden's designer from Leeds, worked closely with the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth throughout the project, describes how the garden tried to source materials from nearby, including boulders from Dove Stones moor:

The stone is beautiful. We have deliberately not cleaned it so it has aged naturally and it is of the period when the girls would have been walking around the Yorkshire Moors and writing their novels. The stone still has its original lichens and mosses attached which look just perfect in the garden and really give a sense of the beauty and bleakness that epitomise the wonderful moorland landscape.

She is properly over the moon, deservedly:

My first Chelsea and I get gold, it doesn't get much better than this! I'm so proud of what we have achieved. I hope the high profile medal inspires more people to come to Yorkshire to see for themselves the landscape that brought gold to the garden.

Always good at linking things, Welcome to Yorkshire has just unveiled a gardens campaign which highlights some of the best gardens to visit in Yorkshire. You can also see three films here which the Guardian Northerner team made last year of the progress of the Art of Yorkshire entry. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Moving Henry Moore's gigantic sculpture – in pictures

Henry Moore's Large Two Forms is being displayed inside for the first time. Marvel as the mammoth forms, three and a half tonnes each, were installed in London's Gagosian Gallery

Ghostpoet on Henry Moore and Gilbert & George – video

Singer-songwriter Ghostpoet considers his own identity as a man behind a moniker through two works showing that, for artists such as himself, Gilbert & George and Henry Moore, the mask is never allowed to slip

May 21 2012

Henry Moore sculpture makes epic journey for its first indoor show

A feat of planning has ensured that Large Two Forms is safely in place for its exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London

The epic seriousness, the male and female interplay, the weathered air of age: Henry Moore's Large Two Forms evoke all these things in their first ever indoor show at the Gagosian Gallery in London. Yet they also pose a rather mundane question: how on earth did that get in here?

Extremely carefully, is the short answer. The two enormous bronzes are hollow (they clang when you tap them), but still weigh about three and a half tonnes each. Installing them, and some other pieces, in this space has required a collapsible crane and the demolition of several walls. "We've never dropped one yet," says Anita Feldman, curator at the Henry Moore Foundation, who is overseeing things.

The show has also been a feat of planning. Each piece has to be delivered and unloaded in a precise order, and the movements of the crane all plotted in advance, or else the massive objects can get stuck behind each other.

In their usual setting at the foundation's Perry Green headquarters, the Large Two Forms are attached to steel girders, which are buried in the ground. Shortly before delivery, these were dug up, and both forms were strapped to a flatbed lorry and driven down the A10 or the M11. For security reasons, following a spate of bronze thefts, there is some deliberate vagueness about the route. Nor am I allowed to know what value is attached to the work (although another Henry Moore bronze, Reclining Figure: Festival, recently sold for £19.1m at auction). Even so, this one must be fairly safe. Its scrap value would be only £8,000-10,000, barely enough to recoup the cost of stealing it.

On arrival at the gallery, the forms are lifted off the truck and placed on casters, in front of a dumbstruck crowd. Like blocks for the Great Pyramid, they are then rolled inside by a team of five men, through two of the demolished walls. (These will be rebuilt before the show starts, then demolished afterwards to get everything out, then rebuilt again.)

Once the first form is in place, someone clambers up it with a padded stepladder to attach slings in a specific, balanced way. "It has to be absolutely right," Feldman explains, "because if it's slightly off, the crane could go. It could even kill somebody." At the same time, someone with a spanner has to lie down underneath the form to unbolt it from its girders. This requires some strength, and quite a lot of courage.

At last, the crane lifts the sculpture up and away. This is quite a moment, as all three and a half tonnes now hang freely. You could send it swinging with a finger (although no one does). After some final consultations, it is lowered again, very slowly, on to its shadow. There is a rumbling vibration as it touches. It is not quite flush with the concrete floor, but doesn't wobble like a restaurant table.

Now the team needs to do the same for the second form, but even more carefully, so it won't crash into the first. Halfway through, however, it is clear that Feldman isn't happy with the placement. "I wouldn't move it now," she said earlier. "There's too much work to move it all again." Yet this, in fact, is exactly what she has decided needs to happen. There are some long-suffering noises from the movers, before they agree that to shift the work 5ft into the centre of the room they will have to start afresh. When the show finishes in August, they'll be back to do everything backwards. "That's usually faster," Feldman says.

Henry Moore, Late Large Forms, will be at Gagosian Gallery, London, from 31 May – 18 August © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 14 2012

Caro at Chatsworth

Chatsworth, Derbyshire

Beside the baroque pomp of Chatsworth, around an oblong pond with a jet of water whose spout commemorates one of the last Russian tsars, a group of 15 metal metaphors has been parked. The steel assemblages are by Anthony Caro, now 88 and recognised as Britain's greatest living sculptor – enigmatic abstractions, machine-like with their screws and rivets, some of them like farm implements negligently deposited here in an aristocratic garden where they have to keep company with statues of wrestling heroes, wilting nymphs and the lecherous goat-footed god Pan, along with a Madonna by Elisabeth Frink and a gang of bibulous metal picnickers designed by Allen Jones.

Caro's rusted flats and bolted girders, irregularly positioned around the water like guests at a dinner table, ought to look out of place. He has always resisted exhibiting his work out of doors, arguing that it needs tranquillity, enclosure and the neutral background of a white wall; he never wanted to people landscapes with totemic presences like those sculpted by Henry Moore, the mentor whose influence he questioned in an Observer article in 1960. In fact, the Chatsworth collection includes an indoor "Table Piece" by Caro, usually housed in a grotto inside the entrance hall but placed, for the next few months, in a sculpture gallery laid out to exhibit the souvenirs of successive Grand Tours by earlier Dukes of Devonshire.

This harpoon-like item, angled to ensure that its edges don't slice off the legs of passers-by, looks a little silly in a mortuary of bloodless neoclassical warriors and frisky Cupids, under a chandelier on which an eagle has alighted.

But outside, exposed to showers scything down from clouds that have the consistency of boulders, additionally crusted with white deposits from birds that perch on it in passing, Caro's work flourishes. It commands open space because it is so architectural, so comfortably civic. Goodwood Steps, a set of oxidised pyramids, is ranged against the southern facade of the grand house with its rooftop balustrade of urns, its columns and crests and cornucopias; the ducal residence is forbiddingly formal but Caro's construction seems habitable, like an embryonic city being pieced together from Meccano. Although you're not allowed to sit on the steps, I found dripping groups of visitors huddled in the defiles beneath and between them, grateful to have found a refuge from the rain.

The three-dimensionality of sculpture should encourage us to become aware of space, of its constructions and its amplitude, and to recognise the quantity of empty air that our bodies displace. Forum seems ready to accommodate a large public meeting, with an atrium for adult discussion and a climbing frame for restless children: a pity about the notices warning you not to touch or to clamber inside, since Caro's stalwart inventions want and need to be explored, inhabited, put to use.

Capital, poking upright in a coat of orange paint, puns about this architectural motive. Is it imitating a capital letter or remembering the proud thrust skywards that creates a capital city?

Egyptian makes a gloomier comment on the purpose of houses such as Chatsworth, which exist as containers for trophies and trinkets, the spoils of generations that stay behind when their owners dematerialise. It is an empty tomb, its internal passages no longer sealed to protect a treasure – an anonymous, impersonal monument that will outlast the man who made it.

Double Tent, with its droopy wings of silvery stainless steel, jokes about the temporariness of canvas, and doesn't bother to be watertight. For once, the failure to provide shelter hardly matters. Goethe said that architecture was frozen music, and this construction, with a pipe for a roof beam and great dishes of curved metal like cymbals at either end, resembles a silent orchestra, ready to turn air into exuberant sound. A metal box called Scorched Flats adds a legless grand piano to the ensemble. Emma Gate has the same entrancing playfulness. The gate is open, made of rods that don't prohibit entry; even the title, which derives from Emma Lake in Saskatchewan, where Caro made it, ceased to be a puzzle when I noticed that a bucket seat held upright by the cross bars contained a puddle of rain, like a shallow lake that shivered in the chill wind.

Despite Caro's preference for galleries, his work has an immediate affinity with the landscape in which it's exhibited here. Chatsworth is the product of a collaboration between art and nature. The vistas we admire are picturesque illusions, designed by gardeners who planted leafy screens to block the gaunt, bleak moors, and demolished entire villages because they interfered with the supercilious sightlines from the house. A rockery that resembles an avalanche is entirely artificial, piled up in homage to the Alps. Inside the house, cabinets of minerals show rock mutating into jewellery. Everywhere in the park, the elements have been persuaded to perform aesthetic tricks: water cascades down hillsides or shows off in fountains, and a weeping willow squirts actual moisture from its metal foliage. It's Caro's achievement to have demonstrated that steel is equally malleable, as easy to shape as water.

His solid, immovable weights seem thin as paper when you look sideways. He also delights in dodging across the border between machinery and organism. Pleats Flat draws attentions to a ridged spin that is meant to suggest a gathering of pleats in soft cloth; they reminded me of stitches in flesh, as if the steel had a wound that has not yet healed. No wonder so many dogs sniffed the sculptures, attempting to define the exact biological or botanical status of these puzzling monoliths. (Luckily metal has no smell, so the dogs felt no need to lift their hind legs and make a critical comment.)

Cliff Song is the most explicit allusion to geology, a steep, bevelled excerpt from a mountain, with an overhang that forms a suspended cave. Once more the harsh substance becomes squashy, palpable: clinging to the cave is an ungeometrical clump that looks almost obscenely carnal – a female torso perhaps, with breasts and belly but no head or limbs. The excrescence mystified me until I noticed that, thanks to the position chosen for the sculpture, it made perfect sense. Cliff Song has been set down next to a wintry tree whose swollen trunk has a series of corky bunions growing on it, exactly in the shape of the tumour soldered on to the metal. And, since spring comes late in north Derbyshire, the only evidence of life on the skeletal tree last week was the twigs that had optimistically sprouted from these morbid growths.

The pleasure of the display comes from such interactions between art and the spirit of place, and from your own dialogue with Caro's teasing contrivances. As I was pondering Forum, an elderly woman crept up and said: "Excuse me, do you know if this one has a title?" When I told her what it was, she said: "I was just saying to my friend that it looks like an old-fashioned locomotive with a cowcatcher on the front. Don't you think that's better?"

I told her that my own first thought, before I cheated by consulting the catalogue, was that it might also be a whisky still. She laughed and tottered on to decipher the next conundrum.

Thanks to Caro, the grounds of Chatsworth have become an adventure playground for the mind. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 05 2012

Henry Moore sculptures venture into great indoors for exhibition

London show of nine enormous works normally seen in open-air sites will change way artist is perceived, says Gagosian Gallery

From the steps of Leeds Art Gallery to the Botanic Garden in Wellington, New Zealand, the sculptures of Henry Moore are usually experienced in the open air.

Now an exhibition at London's Gagosian Gallery will show his work in a different environment – indoors. The gallery has borrowed nine huge sculptures, from sites including Kew Gardens, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire, and will bring them under one roof. For some it will be the first time they have been exhibited in a gallery.

"You'll be able to see the sculptures much more viscerally and close up," said director Mark Francis. "If you see them in the English landscape it associates them with a Britishness which is part of Henry Moore, but not the whole part.

"He was a great modern artist, and an international artist, and we wanted to re-establish that context."

From the 1950s until his death in 1986, Moore created a steady stream of monumental sculptures, most of which came to rest in parks, fields and regenerated town centres all around the world.

Installing six-metre-long sculptures, such as 1966's Large Two Forms, into the gallery in north London will be no easy task, though the Gagosian has experience in this area. In 2008 it exhibited three enormous works by the US artist Richard Serra.

"We built the loading dock at the back of the gallery to take the biggest Serra sculpture we thought we could get in, only to find that it didn't work," said Francis. "We had to rip the front off the building and bring them off the streets and that's what we're doing with these. We've also got to rip out the interior of the building and clear it out, but it's all planned down to the last instance."

The Moores will be shown alongside their hand-sized scale models, known as maquettes, which illustrate the way the artist transformed and enlarged his work. Though the final works were designed to be shown outdoors, Francis said Moore also discussed his work in terms of its relationship to architecture. "We feel we've been very close to the artist's intentions," he said, adding that he expected the show to be hugely popular.

However, despite their ultra-tactile surfaces, and the fact that they are usually exposed to the elements, viewers will not be allowed to touch the sculptures. "There is an injunction against touching the bronze," said Francis. "There's a great patina on them and they oxidise, but it does affect the surface. Sheep are the only things allowed to touch them."

Although the ubiquity of Moore's work may have blunted its impact, in the past few years it has been critically reappraised. A Tate retrospective two years ago was well received, while last year the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which features several Moore works, enjoyed its highest number of visitors. Francis said that as a major British artist, Moore was ideal for a show that would run during the Olympics.

"With great artists, their reputation swings up and down a little bit depending on where their work is shown. I don't think that critically he's ever suffered a bruising decline, but after an artist dies there's the period where their reputation goes into abeyance. Then you start looking at Moore again in a fresh way and that's what we're tried to do."

• Henry Moore: Late Large Forms will run at the Gagosian gallery from 31 May to 18 August © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 19 2012

Picasso and Modern British Art – review

Tate Britain, London

Soames Forsyte, of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, must be the most enterprising art collector in British fiction. At the end of the first world war, while others are still investing in John Singer Sargent, he takes a punt on a work by Pablo Picasso. It is true that Forsyte doesn't struggle to save it when his house catches fire –Dégas take priority – but his prescience has already been established. Forsyte was buying Picasso long before his real-life British counterparts.

How late we were to acquire (if not love) Picasso is one of two stories in Tate Britain's big spring show. It's a cracking tale of politics, class and cultural cringe, more or less pieced together through the captions and catalogue.

The other story is of Picasso's influence on British art. You might argue – the curators do – that Picasso is almost synonymous with modernism and therefore his influence is diffuse. But this show is very precisely focused. It looks at three artists who paid sharp attention without being overwhelmed – Wyndham Lewis, Francis Bacon, David Hockney – and five more who swooned. It is told in 150 works, almost half of them by Picasso; the comparison is frequently cruel.

Picasso's first British airing was in Roger Fry's momentous Manet and the Post-Impressionists in 1910. Putrescence, pornography, infection: the press blew up like bullfrogs and were still mocking the Spaniard in 1949 when the Tate finally acquired its first cubist Picasso. Only the Bloomsberries and a handful of Forsytes bought him. "I find him perfectly charming and quite easy and simple," wrote Vanessa Bell from Paris with telling complacency. If his admirers couldn't see the complexities, then what hope for a public who scarcely saw his work in museums before the second world war?

The attention from Bloomsbury may have been a curse. When Picasso stayed at the Savoy in 1919, designing ropey costumes for Diaghilev (exhaustively represented here, and not a patch on Bakst), the group monopolised him in Garsington and Gordon Square. Other British artists were suspicious, and as the excellent catalogue puts it: "his presence left scarcely any mark on British art".

The exception at this stage was Duncan Grant, whose weak pastiches are an embarrassment to this show. "Why, when I ask about modern artists in England, am I always told about Duncan Grant?" Picasso is said to have inquired. It doesn't get much better later on with Ben Nicholson's guitars and Gallicised still-lifes in the 1930s. "Au Chat Botté Dieppe" is neatly lettered across a tabletop viewed through a window, all done in quasi-fractured planes and chalky tones – cubism Cornish-style.

Nicholson, displaying the anxiety of influence, nicknamed the Spaniard "Piccy" and "Picz". Henry Moore shrewdly avoided all mention of his artistic forebear. To appreciate the necessity of this tactic you need only compare Picasso's The Source with Moore's Reclining Figure, two monumental figures placed conveniently adjacent at Tate Britain, and ask yourself whether the latter is likely to have come into being without the former.

It is one of a dozen instances in this show of something pretty near to plagiarism. Each artist has a different Picasso: cubist for Grant and Nicholson, neoclassicist for Moore, surrealist for Francis Bacon. The Bacon room is the least impressive because it insists upon the similarities between the open-mouthed figures in Picasso's Dinard period and those in Bacon's Crucifixion paintings as if they had a shared idiom, meaning or impact. Bacon acknowledged Picasso very readily, but whatever he absorbed feels quite inconsequential to the exuberant agony and grandeur of his art.

If Bacon looks diminished, imagine the effect on everyone else. Graham Sutherland comes over as a second-rate copyist, David Hockney as a lightweight comedian pulling cubist effects with his camera. Hockney can take care of himself, of course, but what is the lasting value of a show where so much of the art is effectively downgraded?

There are masterpieces: several Picassos, including his beautiful portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, her face two kissing forms like the new moon holding the old in its arms, silky flesh bathed in moonlight, and Wyndham Lewis's Workshop, that marvellous concatenation of geometric planes in coruscating pinks and mustards that almost resolve into windows, ladders and shelves, by day and also, as it seems, by night.

If this relates to Picasso, it is via futurism, and speaking not of pictorial languages so much as the dynamism of modern life. And that is how it goes at Tate Britain: surely Grant got more from Matisse? If Lewis, then why not William Roberts? Did they really mean to make the British look so puny? Extraneous questions are raised from one room to the next; it is no way to experience art.

How Picasso finally arrived in Britain, how his communism affected Anglo-Saxon attitudes, who saw his work when and how they responded: Picasso and Modern British Art is tremendously enlightening – as a catalogue. The show is another matter. It needs to fit the pictures to the text and ends up shrinking the art. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 28 2011

Eva Rothschild at Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth Wakefield; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

On the banks of the Calder stands our newest museum, its foundations deep in the river. Its patinated surfaces shift from lead to purple to silver-grey according to the altering light. From a certain angle – and it has many – the building looks like an islanded keep, fortified against the enemy and ringed by water. There seems to be no back or front. Even the means of entry appears, initially, secret.

The Hepworth Wakefield (as opposed to the Hepworth St Ives) is not just Britain's newest art museum. That wouldn't be much of a claim given that we have had so many in recent years, from Gateshead's Baltic to the New Art Gallery Walsall to the Turner Contemporary in Margate, also designed by David Chipperfield Architects, which opened only last month.

Nor is it necessarily much of a boast that this is the largest purpose-built gallery since the Hayward, with 5,000 square metres of space, for it looks as if you could put the whole thing into the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, more or less. What really matters is this building's sense of purpose. The Hepworth could be the smallest of our museums and still count as one of Britain's greatest, for the simple reason that it is so well designed for the presentation of art.

Outside, the building is an agglomeration of irregular boxes. The roofs slope, the walls are high and compellingly stark. The windows are of different sizes and so intriguingly distributed they might make you think of a medieval castle. But of course the aesthetic is essentially modernist, all cubist stacking and flattening, with nuances of Picasso's houses at Horta and those geometric cities dreamed up by Paul Klee.

The colour of the exterior is irreconcilably controversial. Nobody has quite found a term for the peculiar mix of grey, brown and bluish-purple (the architects are calling it, simply, "Hepworth brown") with which the concrete is pigmented. But there are plenty of derogatory words in the air: dour, depressing, industrial, dirty. Some of the local people I met genuinely believed that the walls had not yet been painted.

But Hepworth brown changes all the time (and the concrete will presumably mellow). In any case it gives the museum far more gravitas than the glassy sheen of Chipperfield's Turner Contemporary, which suits its different status as a museum with a permanent collection. For the entire contents of the original Wakefield Art Gallery – including works by Giacometti, Brancusi and Gaudier-Brzeska, as well as Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and the eponymous Barbara Hepworth – are here, along with a large group of Hepworth's plaster models, all amplified by additional loans from Tate and the British Council.

In Wakefield it is now possible to see Hepworth and her British peers in the context of European modernist sculpture as almost nowhere else outside Tate Modern – and in better viewing conditions. With its chasmic galleries and high-rise escalators, Tate Modern is all drama and onward thrust. Everything about its design, and very often its orchestration, runs against quiet and steady viewing. It is not always possible even to see the sculptures in the round, given the pressing throng of visitors.

The 10 galleries of the Hepworth are gracious, calm and scaled to human proportions. They rise up for a prototype of Hepworth's enormous Winged Figure, with its clattering anatomy of metal feathers, looking far better here than the original nailed to John Lewis on Oxford Street, and they subside to an intimate size for her more tactile works.

The opening gallery sets the tone with its spacious array of marble ovoids, totems and quasi-human forms. Waist-height, on low pedestals, they seem altogether more approachable in this setting, especially the polished white works, which can appear depilated and sterile.

At a distance, for instance, a hollowed egg such as Spring reveals very little other than Hepworth's signature pierced hole and strings. But up close, with nature through the window beyond, it lives up to its promise of bright new music and when you look inside there is an intimation of fresh blue skies.

Hepworth as carver and caster, working these forms by hand, is the subject of a gallery of tools and prototypes. This is complicated, since she did not regard them as art and there are too few finished works on show by comparison. But anyone who prefers her drawings, as I do, will be delighted to see several of her sensitive and super-fluent images of bodies in motion and at rest.

They express more naturally than the sculptures a characteristic tension between figuration and abstraction, between wings, strings and apertures suggestive of sight and speech, and those strenuous and elliptical solids that block interpretation. But all the works get strength from their proximity, here, to Brancusi's Danaide, for instance, an exquisite golden egg of a head. Or Naum Gabo's marvellous Stone with a Collar that brings together the stone, some cellulose acetate and a whiplash tail in an assemblage that somehow suggests a shoreline of waves, sea creatures, shells and helter-skelters shifting in perpetual motion.

Four galleries of the Hepworth are devoted to contemporary art, so that the museum looks forwards as well as backwards. The inaugural one-woman show is apt, since Eva Rothschild is always taking sidelong glances at modernist sculpture with her own cool and quirky works. Here she shows some humorously apposite pieces – a little Wakefield cloud, scribbled in white wire; a gleaming black doughnut echoing the museum's ring of galleries; and a whole string of works that take Hepworth's art to a contemporary conclusion, involving pebbles, nuts, moons and surfaces of black and gold that bring a nightclub glamour to these comically helpless and eccentric works.

At the gateway between old and new, Rothschild has one of her levitating hoops – a giant circle from which scarlet ribbons descend, apparently held up by nothing whatsoever. It is beautifully conceived, and titled: Sunrise. The gradually sloping angles of each gallery appear as suited to contemporary art as to the balanced geometry of Mondrian or Ben Nicholson's pale reliefs. Partly this is to do with keeping the eye moving, but also because of the superlative use of daylight, which waterfalls down from the edges of suspended ceilings, bathing rather than striking the works of art.

And here and there the windows of the Hepworth show you real water, damming and cascading outside. This is one of the museum's most striking virtues. Rather than hermetically sealed, like so many galleries, it frames occasional images of the world beyond: 19th-century warehouses, the spire of the Chantry Chapel, the magnificent willow that weeps by the river. And each view brings you back to the art once more, to see what it makes of life.

Not 15 minutes away by car, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is showing monumental works by the Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa: a loosely connected family of what he calls his "souls". Large bronze figures, each clutching a cherry tree that rises like a thought, or a prayer; enormous heads, some in translucent resin, lit from within and lettered with anxious ideas, others formed of open lattices spelling out half-caught phrases. A beautiful curtain of capital letters, when gently strung, articulates music out of broken poems.

But best of all is a gallery of vast haunting heads, carved from white alabaster, that seem to be struggling from the rock like Michelangelo's Slaves. Each face is elongated, almost anamorphic and yet at the same time conjuring holograms and computer distortions. Conflating ancient and modern, they are unforgettably strange: new beings half-alive, it seems, in the world.

It is not so far from here to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, or to his open gardens and studio. Indeed, anyone wishing to steep themselves in European sculpture of the 20th and 21st centuries should go to see it at its most condensed, outdoors and in, in a few square miles of Yorkshire. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 19 2011

Inside The Hepworth Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield gallery in Yorkshire opens to the public on 21 May. Take a peek inside

February 03 2011

Yorkshire: centre for sculpture

£35m gallery devoted to Barbara Hepworth joins Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Henry Moore Institute to make county a centre for sculpture

A £35m gallery that will help turn Yorkshire into one of the most significant destinations for sculpture was unveiled today, sidestepping the national trend of cuts to the arts and libraries.

The Hepworth Wakefield will open to the public on 21 May and become the largest purpose-built gallery to open in the UK since Tate St Ives nearly 20 years ago.

The gallery is named in honour of Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth. It is a rare good news story for arts funding, much of which is currently centred on closures and cutbacks.

In truth, the project was probably too far advanced to rein back. "To simply pull the plug now was not really a viable option," said Peter Box, leader of Wakefield council, which is making cuts of £67m over four years. "If the question is, would we go ahead now, in this financial climate, then the truth is, I don't know.

"But I do know this. This is an important investment in the future of Wakefield and I passionately believe it will help regeneration and the local economy. It will be an inspiration to young people."

There certainly promise to be some stellar exhibits. A group of more than 40 prototypes and models donated by the Hepworth family via the Art Fund will give an insight into the artist's working practices. Exhibits will include the full-size prototype for Hepworth's sculpture Winged Figure, which watches over visitors to John Lewis on Oxford Street, London.

There will also be loans from the Arts Council and the British Council, as well as works from Wakefield's own 6,000-strong collection. The first temporary exhibition will be a show by Eva Rothschild, who two years ago filled the Duveen galleries at Tate Britain with her enormous zig-zagging sculpture, Cold Corners.

Together with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, the new gallery helps make Yorkshire a world centre for sculpture.

The building itself, designed by David Chipperfield and made up of 10 irregularly shaped box structures on the banks of the river Calder, has divided local opinion. "Some people say it's too angular or too grey, too dark or in the wrong place," said Box. "But I'm fine with that because there'll always be a difference of opinion about architecture, or indeed art and that's a good thing. People who might have had a negative view will change their mind once they see what's inside."

Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, one of the many partners involved in the project, called it "ambitious and rather breathtaking". "The next four years are going to be tough for all of us involved in funding the arts but it is not a time for us to shut up shop, or pull the bedclothes over our heads. It is a time when ambition has to flourish."

Hepworth's granddaughter Sophie Bowness said: "We felt that Wakefield was the most appropriate permanent home for the plaster to be seen amongst the works of Barbara's contemporaries and in the city where she was born and grew up. The Hepworth Wakefield promises to be one of the country's great galleries." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 23 2011

Modern British Sculpture – review

Royal Academy, London

Anyone who thinks Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII (the bricks) has been more reviled than any other sculpture in this country should think again. Jacob Epstein's statue of Day was regularly assaulted in the 20s. His Rima, in Hyde Park, was once tarred and feathered and you can still see the mutilated remains of his nude figures on the facade of Zimbabwe House in the Strand, noses and genitals hacked off in 1935 "on safety grounds" after years of vicious campaigning.

The bricks, by contrast, only suffered a mild dose of paint and the acid aspersions of the Sunday Times in 1976. But still the attack seems to belong to another era, an age of outrage, violence and censorship before sculpture became such a familiar, not to say popular, art form in this country.

For we are used to seeing sculpture celebrated annually on the Fourth Plinth, in the Turbine Hall, at the Turner prize. Our countryside is full of fixed Gorms. We know the art of Mark Wallinger, Cornelia Parker, Helen Chadwick, Marc Quinn, the venerable Richards Deacon and Wilson. Thousands travel to see the ghostly casts of Rachel Whiteread, the poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay, the radiant illusions of Anish Kapoor. It is no stretch to claim, as Anthony Caro recently has, that sculpture has become our language.

So this feels like the perfect moment for an all-together-now survey of modern British sculpture. How could it possibly fail? Let me count the unexpected ways. To start with, not a single one of these British artists (bar Caro) is included. Perhaps they were not invited, perhaps they refused, but in any case the omissions weaken and distort the story.

You would not learn from this show (curated by the sculptor Keith Wilson and Penelope Curtis, director of Tate Britain) anything about the Geometry of Fear or the rise of installation art. There's no pop and not much advanced conceptualism. And if that suggests a bias away from Martin Creed, say, towards carving, casting or traditional craftsmanship, then bear in mind that all sorts of relevant candidates, from GF Watts to William Tucker to the Chapman Brothers, are also excluded.

Or, rather, Tucker is represented only in the catalogue, by his 1969 essay on modern sculpture in Studio International, just as all of Gustav Metzger's fiery creations and destructions are bypassed for a boring wall of his Page 3 girls. Half a gallery is devoted to ceramics or, rather, to demonstrating the influence of Chinese stoneware on potters like Bernard Leach, when Japan was surely as crucial.

Wonderful as it is to see the films of Len Lye screening in the Royal Academy, it is not clear why they count as sculpture, even when the definition is so elastic as to include anything (such as a happening, a performance or a Richard Long walk) that exists, or once existed, in three dimensions. And if Andre's Equivalent VIII can make the cut, though the American's minimalism never took root here, then why not Marcel Duchamp, whose influence is infinitely greater? Surely yesterday's headlines were not a factor?

In short, this show is either unintentionally patchy, perverse or a combination of the two. It spurns comprehensiveness in favour of "conversations" between exhibits. But its own tendentiousness gets in the way.

You walk into a gallery containing four flagrantly miscellaneous figures. Alfred Gilbert's neo-baroque Victoria, in which the old queen resembles nothing so much as Gilbert, or is it George, on a throne crowned with gilded lilies; Lord Leighton's classical athlete; Philip King's semi-abstract Genghis Khan and Charles Wheeler's bronze Adam, in which the pierced head admits light in most unfortunate ways, making the eyes come alive in Hammer Horror fashion.

What is the connection – leaders, empires, robes, on the one hand; heroic nudity on the other? The juxtapositions force the issue, but the bathetic answer is that these artists were all Royal Academicians (three former presidents, we're told, as if that matters).

The opening gallery is bent on displaying what every schoolgirl knows, namely the influence of ancient cultures on early 20th-century art. Tremendous loans from the British Museum alternate with modern sculptures so that one sees, definitively, the lessons of Indian carving for Eric Gill, the effect of Aztec figures upon Henry Moore, what Epstein took from Egyptian art.

It is an exemplary exercise, to be sure, but also a knockout for modern art. Every piece here is lessened by comparison. Gill looks like an art deco stylist, Gaudier-Brzeska appears silly, and next to the stupendous Assyrian reliefs he revered, Sargeant Jagger's first world war frieze looks about as sophisticated as sculpted icing.

Too often, the art is presented to make a point, or even two. Moore and Hepworth: figurative v abstract, horizontal v vertical. Gilbert's Victoria: commemoration v propaganda. The approach is vigorous and should keep visitors moving briskly – assuming they are not intent on the sculptures as art.

One hundred and twenty artists to choose from, yet so many poor or unrepresentative works. Why not borrow Gaudier-Brzeska's marvellous Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound instead of his dog? How about Damien Hirst's elegiac Away From the Flock, not another case full of flies. Sarah Lucas, Rebecca Warren, Richard Wentworth: none is well represented. Wilson even asks in his catalogue essay, as if to acknowledge the fact, whether weak works say more than strong ones.

There are brilliant moments in this show, it's true. To open with a replica of Edwin Lutyens's Cenotaph, that soaring monument that seems like the bright, solid opposite of a grave (and what associations with absent Whiteread) is to strike at the whole definition of sculpture right away. To see Epstein breaking free of the British Museum is to understand his thunderous impact on British sculpture.

And Anthony Caro's Early One Morning, with its dazzling array of steel girders, tubes and backboards, shifted and tilted until the forms seem to react to one another, signalling or springing flirtatiously apart, remains forever young. Open, free, airily articulate, its scarlet feet barely touching the ground, it feels perennially new after 50 years.

From Caro to Kapoor, there are so many different strains of abstraction in British sculpture; so many, and perhaps more, of figuration. You could tell a tale of primitive idols, hyper-real effigies and eerie tableaux, of philosophy, memory and the landscape transformed, of ideas made visible and dramatic illusions, of humour and politics and strange beauty: of immense creative richness.

But none of this is touched upon at the Royal Academy, with its joyless chronology and lack of focus, shape or story. In fact, by the time you reach the final room, where the objects are displayed like Hoovers in a shop, you may have lost heart, and no wonder. It would be hard to imagine a major exhibition that showed modern British sculpture to less advantage. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 18 2011

Empire of the oddballs

Inspired by artefacts plundered from around the world, Britain's sculptors, from Moore to Hepworth to Hirst, let their visions run riot. Adrian Searle applauds a heavyweight new show

Modern British Sculpture opens with a model and some photographs. The model is a three-quarter-size replica of Edwin Lutyens's 1919 Whitehall Cenotaph. The photographs blown up on the surrounding walls depict the controversial but largely decorous naked and semi-naked figures with which, in 1908, Jacob Epstein once decorated the exterior of the British Medical Association building on the Strand, and which were removed before the second world war.

The mocked-up Cenotaph is pale, serious, and somehow irrefutable. I have long thought it a great sculpture, with its slightly inclined vertical planes, which, if projected, would meet a thousand feet above the earth's surface. Photographed in grainy black and white, Epstein's high-relief sculptures are naked, grubby with London soot, ruined temporary plaster figures.

Temporary like us. This space has the feel of a mausoleum, a place of death and commemoration. Then, through a doorway, we are tantalised by things displayed in spotlit gloom: a black basalt Easter Island figure, an ancient Egyptian baboon, a phallic woman carved by the overheated Eric Gill. Is this going to be a fun show, or what?

British British Sculpture Sculpture is the title of the essay by curator (and recently appointed director of Tate Britain) Penelope Curtis that opens the catalogue. The same title adorns the essay by her co-curator, British sculptor Keith Wilson at the end of the book. Is it me, or is there an echo in here? One cannot but wonder to what degree this exhibition indicates Curtis's future direction of Tate Britain. It tries to tell one among many stories of modern art, in a limited space, and is no worse for bringing less well known artists and works to the foreground, while ignoring others. And who needs another coffee-table pop-up sculpture show and catalogue of the usual big names?

The show is full of echoes: of ancient African, Egyptian and oceanic art, Greek sculpture, the fragile clatter of Chinese porcelains and Bernard Leach pots, the pomp of Victorian Britain and of the imperialist mindset that filled the British Museum with artefacts from other cultures and other times, influencing generations of sculptors.

Britain bought, looted and collected from the world, wherever navy and empire went. Artists in their turn – Moore to Gill, Barbara Hepworth, the almost forgotten Maurice Lambert and Leon Underwood – stole from the treasure horde in the British Museum, as well as from their European peers. Their demonstrable craft and frequent self-regarding preciosity is wearying. They wished to be original, but mostly turned into mannerists.

Less is Moore

And what, in this entire exhibition, could be more modern or more timeless than the 4,000-year-old neo-Sumerian stone, a great, grey, carved weight like a giant, weather-smoothed pebble, whose form is neither more or less than that of a sleeping duck? It declares without trying those perennially ancient and modern dicta about "truth to materials" and "less is more".

Going through the show I thought less Henry Moore would be good, too, but I suppose he is unavoidable. The Sumerian duck also finds an echo, much later on, in a single-bar electric fire whose backplate has been snipped into the form of a yellow fish, a tench swimming in the grate, by Bill Woodrow. Next to the Woodrow is a small, worrying sculpture by the late Lucia Nogueira, a polished Coke can connected to a length of rubber tubing. It's almost nothing, but takes on a disconcerting air of human plumbing, a desperate surgical experiment in connecting insides and outsides, the world with the body, and a thing to a wall. Nearby, John Latham does something inexplicable with plaster, paint and books. Its like a head exploding with ill-digested words.

Also included here are a few more recent examples of key European and American art – a Jeff Koons basketball exactly half-submerged in a fishtank stands near a huge Damien Hirst vitrine. This is just an aside about influence, but there's a real conversation going on between Carl Andre's 1966 Equivalent VIII, his once-notorious bricks, Richard Long's line of white lumps of chalk from 1984, and a 1966 work, a wall-bound cast of a patch of London wasteground, which itself includes stray bits of brick rubble, by the Boyle Family. But maybe it's too nice, too neat a conjunction.

There's nothing nice about the Hirst, with its flyblown, abandoned picnic-table lunch, a barbecue with rotting steaks, maggots and flies heaving among the charcoal, the cow's head leaking blood under a chair. The horror! The horror! At least the Koons is clean. Nearby, a small Urs Fischer sculpture dangles in mid-air, half an apple and half a pear conjoined at the end of a length of nylon fishing line. We are being reminded, once again, what British art owes to both the past and to bloody foreigners. Fischer's sculpture is forbidden fruit. But we've all tasted it now.

What connects Albert Gilbert's Jubilee Memorial (1887) to Queen Victoria and Phillip King's mad, somehow Batman-like, purple Ghengis Khan (1963) in a room called The Establishment Figure? Is it form (both are essentially conical) or inadvertent sculptural stupidity (both are comical), or is it that both Queen Victoria and Ghengis Khan were emperors? Gilbert's Queen ignores Ghengis Khan, and stares unamused through a doorway towards the huge balls and semi-engorged penis of Jacob Epstein's Adam (1938), in the next gallery. Phew, you say, and go for a quick restorative lie down on the hessian-covered bench that, a wall panel tells us, "is here to offer temporary repose to a wilting public". Adam's certainly not wilting. The text goes on to inform us that the bench disrupted "the quite different aesthetic occasion of Anthony Caro's solo Whitechapel exhibition in 1963". What's with this arch wit? Who needs it?

But we do need Caro, and his great, bright-red steel work from 1962, Early One Morning, has a gallery all its own. I always think of this as a figurative composition – a cross-like figure at one end, a sort of red blackboard or mirror at the other, with various complications occurring inbetween. This reading is of course antithetical to the high, Greenbergian modernist terms that Caro adhered to when he made the sculpture. But there's no accounting for what an audience might think, ignoring an artist's intentions. Once, Caro was seen as the world's most radical sculptor. Then minimalism and arte povera came along, with their mutually incompatible boxes and grids, their poetry and images. British art learned to live with them all.

What – and whom – is omitted or ignored is as interesting as what is included. Certain important aspects of British sculpture are missing altogether. What of the Geometry of Fear, Britain's answer to French postwar existentialism and angst? There's none here. No tortured bronze and steel. No British pop sculpture, no systems art or British backing-into-minimalism-via-constructivism and other routes. There's no Eduardo Paolozzi, no Elizabeth Frink, another thankful omission. Tony Cragg is here, but not Richard Deacon, neither Anish Kapoor nor Antony Gormley, no William Tucker, no Rachel Whiteread. Perhaps they are dispensable to the story of British art's struggle with modernity. We move instead away from sculpture as a fully embodied object, or one that wrestles with big ideas and grand themes, towards fragility, impermanence, an anxiety of making things that count.

Modern life is empty

In any case, it isn't always easy to distinguish major from minor, the canonical from the curiosity, mainstream from backwater. There are millennium-old Chinese ceramics here that could have been made yesterday, and new things that look antedeluvian. And nothing ages quicker than the temporarily modish. Liam Gillick meets Julian Opie (Ah! The gleam of aluminium, the emptiness and disaffected estrangements of modern life!) and a little Rebecca Warren homage to Helmut Newton and Robert Crumb – all legs and bums and vulvas. Some things were never meant to co-exist, but they do.

For much of the past century – let alone beyond – British art has been secondary on the world stage, however Moore, Caro and Hirst have been lauded and reviled. We are good at taking other people's radical advances and extreme positions and taming them, effecting peculiarly diplomatic compromises on unruly foreign extremes. We Brits domesticate other people's art. We are good at oddball individuals though – from Gill to John Latham, Richard Long to Sarah Lucas to Richard Wentworth – whose own takes on modernity and their times are as distinctive as they are eccentric. They also, this show posits, might be important in ways some of their better-recognised and more lauded peers, smooth operators on the international stage as they may well be, are not. In the end you have to ask yourself what matters. Modern British Sculpture is only temporary. One day it will all be old. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 13 2011

The art of ageing

Art exhibition uses work of famous artists to challenge perceptions held of older people

Negative perceptions of ageing and older people are being challenged through the works of famous artists at an exhibition that opened today.

The show aims to celebrate and explore age and the ageing process. It includes works by Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henry Moore and Maggi Hambling, as well as newly commissioned pieces by three contemporary artists.

"Ageing is the most important subject on the planet," said Tom Kirkwood, director of Newcastle University's institute of ageing and health, which is behind the exhibition at the city's Great North Museum: Hancock.

"Life expectancy is the biggest thing that will change humanity in the 21st century. We face other major challenges of course, climate change say, but the fact our lives are getting longer is just enormous in its implications."

Degas had a progressive retinal eye disease from his 30s which, in all likelihood, contributed to the wonderfully blurred, hazier backgrounds of his later and better works, including the Ballet Dancers painting in the show on loan from the National Gallery.

Arguably, this helped secure his place in art history, with Renoir writing that, had Degas died at 50 he'd be no more than a footnote.

Renoir was so affected by rheumatoid arthritis that he couldn't hold a paintbrush in later life. Instead he turned to sculpture and employed a younger artist to form the clay following his instructions, as in the Mother and Child bronze in the exhibition.

The show is trying to shine a light on many aspects of a large subject. For example, the inclusion of Henry Moore's illustrations for The Seven Ages of Man aims to highlight the fact that ageing is a lifelong process that begins in the womb. Another Moore drawing is of the hands of Dorothy Hodgkin, one of Britain's most important scientists, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from the age of 24.

There is a striking Hambling portrait of her elderly neighbour Frances Rose, whose gnarled arthritic hands may scream pain, but whose face shows liveliness and vitality. A video by Jordan Baseman portrays 83-year-old eccentric Gordon Rowley – former president of the British Cactus and Succulent Society – who maintains a joyful verve for life and living.

"This idea that you've got to go quietly into a corner at a certain age is dreadful and nonsense," said the show's curator, Lucy Jenkins.

Three artists – Jennie Pedley, Andrew Carnie and Annie Cattrell – have collaborated with and followed scientists at the institute to produce works for the show. Cattrell observed brain autopsies before creating her works which examine how memory is stored and include sculptures of the hippocampus and amgydala in a brain-shaped cave.

Kirkwood and Jenkins said they hoped visitors would leave the exhibition with more of a spring in their step.

"I hope people will take a lot of positives from this show, that we shouldn't fear old age," Jenkins said.

"The fact that people are living longer is really good for the economy," added Kirkwood.

Everyone needed to think more positively about ageing, he said.

"The way things are going now, the vast majority of us are going to live to a ripe old age and if there has to come a point when you look in the mirror and you don't like what you see that's very undermining for your self-esteem and the quality of your life.

"This is why art, which can reach in to people and get them to think and respond differently, is so important."

Coming of Age: The Art and Science of Ageing is on until 2 March. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 23 2010

Winter wonderland

Works by artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, David Nash and Sophie Ryder are scattered around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield

September 08 2010

Made in Britain

Works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore feature in exhibition questioning what is modern, British and sculpture

The Royal Academy has announced details of the first exhibition for 30 years to examine 20th-century British sculpture.

It also revealed plans for a final room that may raise eyebrows –pinning up a Sun page three for every day the three-month long show is open.

The piece is by the veteran artist Gustav Metzger and the exhibition's co-curator Penelope Curtis explained the thinking behind it.

"We chose this piece because it reflects quite well on the literary, journalistic day by day quality of the way we perceive British culture now. How, for most people, the way they understand what British culture is, is through the press, through imagery, through magazines so it comes to you pre-digested."

It may of course prompt a few "Call that art?" splutters, but probably not as many as another work in a show did back in 1976. Carl Andre's Bricks – 120 bricks arranged in a rectangle – had some commentators barely able to speak with fury when it was revealed that the work had been bought by the Tate.

The new exhibition is called Modern British Sculpture. Curtis, now director of Tate Britain, said that she and her colleagues would have done their job if the public left the show questioning what is modern, British and sculpture.

Curtis and her co-curator, Keith Wilson, a practising sculptor, said the aim was not to have a traditional survey but to have a series of visual arguments or dialogues.

One of those will be between the two titans of British sculpture, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and the exhibition will place two of their most famous works in the same room: Moore's Reclining Figure, commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and Hepworth's Single Form, commissioned for the United Nations plaza in New York.

Other works will include Alfred Gilbert's Queen Victoria, Leon Underwood's Totem to the Artist, Anthony Caro's Early One Morning and Richard Long's Chalk Line.

More recent sculpture will include Damien Hirst's Let's Eat Outdoors Today, which has the remains of a barbecue and buzzing flies in a large vitrine, and a piece that influenced Hirst and his fellow YBAs, Jeff Koons's Basketball.

There will be no works from the two dominant forces in British sculpture today, Antony Gormley or Anish Kapoor, but Curtis said nothing should be read into that: "The show is not a roll call of who's important. It's absolutely not that."

Modern British Sculpture is on at the Royal Academy of Arts, London from 22 January to 10 April 2011 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 27 2010

Tactility and turbulence

When Henry Moore's sculptures were first displayed, they were so shocking opponents decapitated them and daubed them with paint. A retrospective at Tate Britain explores the impulses that led to these controversial works. It is a magnificent rehabilitation, says Hilary Spurling

The only time I ever met Henry Moore was in the 1960s, when one of my first jobs, as a temporary British Council dogsbody, was to escort a visiting Israeli sculptor on a trip to Moore's headquarters at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. We found him in his studio supervising a couple of assistants, all three dwarfed by the sloping mounds and cavities of a colossal work in progress made out of white poly­styrene. It was one of a steady stream of public pieces trundling out of Much Hadham ready to be finalised, as Moore explained, in bronze or marble. We set out on a motor tour of the grounds. When we reached another mighty piece positioned at the bottom of a field, Moore stopped the car, hopped out and made us both lie flat on the ground beneath his sculpture. "I want you to look up at it and think of infinity," he instructed his distinguished guest.

Timelessness, monumentality and permanence were essential qualities for Moore. He must have been the last major artist to see sculpture in these terms, and he was certainly by far the most successful in marketing it worldwide as a standard complement to the proliferating office blocks and municipal buildings constructed on a previously unheard-of scale from the 1950s onwards. For two or three decades he officially exemplified postwar civic reconstruction (and inevitably in due course its failures). "I grew up with a numbing sense of familiarity to his work," says one of the young British artists quoted in the catalogue to the Tate's new show. "There is something deeply unexotic about Henry Moore's work."

Its sleek glossy surfaces and elephantine mass, its towers and triumphal arches seeming to exude reassurance and nostalgia for a lost stability, spread everywhere. "I can't separate Moore from the idea of public space and of art seen in the context of town planning,' says Gareth Jones (whose own recent preference is for elegant understated works in materials such as Fablon, newsprint and chipboard). Commissions from 1950s English new towns, promptly followed by Unesco in Paris and the Lincoln Centre in New York, made a bronze or marble Moore an international badge of prestige and rank.

Cities vied for his attention. "Toronto was a hick town," said its mayor, explaining how the city bought its first Moore in 1966 in a successful attempt to reverse its image: "I was interested in seeing that it turned the corner of becoming a great metropolis" (Toronto is the Tate's partner in this exhibition). Ten years later a city-hall Moore did much the same for Dallas.

Moore's progress stupefied his fellow artists. For younger generations his work was a brooding presence, difficult to get through to and impossible to get away from. The Moore bronze on the forecourt of the Chelsea School of Art felt to student Steve Claydon "like an unwelcome uncle whose apparent intention it was to embarrass you in front of your friends". Moore himself had made a prescient drawing in 1942, Crowd Looking at a Tied-Up Object, showing a huddle of small, thin, nervous people staring up at a towering monolith, wrapped and roped like one of Moore's own later works in transit. Successive waves of sculptors had to fight back or be stifled by him. "Much of my early work was a kind of dismissal of Moore," says the stone-carver Peter Randall-Page. "I call him Heinrich Moore," says Michael Sandle.

In 1967 17 leading British artists – including Anthony Caro, a former assistant from Much Hadham and himself now the grand old man of British sculpture – wrote to the Times repudiating Moore and all he stood for. The trouble was that for most of them it was Moore himself who had opened up the paths that he simultaneously blocked off. Their predicament was succinctly summed up two years later in Bruce McLean's Reclining Nude, Fully Draped, a photograph of a human body shrouded in an enormous rumpled sheet. "It's me (fully clothed, actually) underneath that dustsheet," said McLean.

For its first 40 years Moore's life had been a different story. Stone was his preferred medium and, though he always had supporters, his work remained largely unknown outside the tiny circles of a British avant garde. There were virtually no bronzes before 1939. What he liked was slamming into stone with punch and pitcher, or hewing treetrunks with an axe. Extreme violence – "knocking, carving or bursting pieces off" – was followed by interminable weeks or months of minute labour, "like a mouse gnawing a hole in a wall". The aim was a release of tensions in the stone that seemed to correspond to some sort of internal pressure in the sculptor himself.

Moore made his early works from odd slabs of local stone picked up cheap in masons' yards. Often, you can still sense the confines of the rectangular blocks they came from, but already they seem to take up more space than they actually occupy. The Tate show opens with a massively uncompromising Mother and Child in dark grey Hornton stone – "a small mountain of a work" said Antony Gormley – confronting allcomers in a powerful, lively, complicated knot of interlocking heads and arms. Woman with Upraised Arms looks from the back like a mountainside herself, a pale, freckled expanse of sloping stone with a long, straight stream of hair spilling down between her shoulder blades.

Landscape and the female figure ("in my work women must outnumber men by at least fifty to one") fused in Moore's imagination from the start. The lovely riverine Reclining Figure of 1929, carved from a stone as muddy, soft and aqueous as the English weather, retains traces of watery origins in the shiny brown trickles of some mineral deposit animating elbow and knee, and in the wavy bands of drab grey and dirty yellow tracking horizontally through the rhythmic ­geometry of sturdy thighs and forearms. It is in part their ambiguity that gives these works a concentrated energy too often lacking from even the most polished of Moore's experiments with pure abstraction. They combine minute and drastically compressed observation with the ruthless vision of a practitioner who never stopped, never looked back, never did the same thing twice, working as if he risked his future with each fresh piece.

A group of a dozen young women with small, alert, expressive heads and expansive bodies await attention in the first room. Assured and humorous, lounging full length or poised calmly on slender, upright torsos, they nonetheless convey a palpable collective perplexity and disquiet. Several wring their hands. One with trapped tongue, pinpoint nose and squinty eyes seems to follow you round the show. A still more disconcerting figure, glistening like shiny, dappled frogskin, fixes her stare on the space above your head. These figures owe much to the ethnic prototypes Moore studied in the British Museum, and as much perhaps to Cézanne's bathers, nudes "sliced out of mountain rock" that came as a revelation when he first saw them in Paris as a student.

His studies of women suckling their children outraged contemporaries in the 1930s, and it is not hard to see why. In the Tate's mother-and-baby room, mothers swerve back or gaze blankly anywhere but at the infants, replete and lolling or grabbing and gorging on the breast. Emotional dislocation culminates in an uncharacteristically explicit mother with serrated head who seems, as Lyndsey Stonebridge puts it in her catalogue essay, "about to throttle her child", itself a birdlike creature, all vicious pecking beak and frighteningly long thrashing neck.

But it was the containment of inner perturbation that remained always Moore's speciality. He was 41 when he sold a Recumbent Figure to the Contemporary Art Society in 1939 as a present for the Tate, whose most ­notorious director, JB Manson, had declared the year before that Moore would enter the gallery over his dead body. Manson was replaced and the gift accepted within 12 months. Recumbent Figure is one of the highlights of the present show, an airy, graceful mass of striated stone that surrenders weight and density to the surging line of shoulder, buttock, hip and thigh, comprised in a single twisting curve like a wave with crests at either end on head and knee. Its purchase was a decisive stage in Moore's move from the private to the public arena. Two years later he finally gave up teaching to become a full-time artist. "It's never been like this for me before," he said in 1941, when the War Artists' Committee bought his drawings of people sheltering in the London underground from Nazi bombs, and asked for more.

If Moore's shelter drawings marked the point at which demand first outstripped supply, they also touched a depth of communal experience neither he nor anybody else had explored before. Moore said the only thing he could compare with the London shelters was the hold of a slave ship. The figures slumped beneath these cavernous vaults in Mooreish poses – sloping legs and supporting arms protruding from mounded bodies with broad, hollow laps – represent at bottom an unheroic civilian vision of war's passivity, helplessness and squalor. "They are life to which things (terrible things) are being done," Geoffrey Grigson wrote at the time. In retrospect some saw them as a foretaste of Belsen and Buchenwald. Certainly they were forerunners of the lank, fleshless, blank-eyed, slack-bellied bronze figures he made in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Moore was unanimously promoted soon after the war as this country's representative of modern art, a role that turned out to be one part figurehead to three parts punchbag. It is difficult now to conceive the degree of ignorance behind this remarkable reversal, or to convey the sheer lack of information available in a Britain without TV, let alone the internet, at a time when there was no cheap foreign travel, no contemporary art galleries, no affordable artbooks, not even glossy magazines. Like most of my generation, I grew up knowing about modernism, if at all, from Punch cartoons in dentists' waiting rooms. I understood that it consisted of women with pinheads and holes where their hearts should be long before I saw my first real Moore.

This was not a specifically British condition, although it was admittedly aggravated by physical and moral insularity. The hostility spearheaded in this country by two former presidents of the Royal Academy, Alfred Munnings and Charles Wheeler (still protesting in the Times about "bronze oddities" as late as 1967), was replicated in civic warfare all over Europe and America wherever it was publicly proposed to buy or show Moore's work. His sculptures were decapitated in Dumfries and daubed with blue paint in Leeds. His Recumbent Figure had her head chopped off on a wartime loan to MoMa in New York, his Spindle Piece was vandalised with metal chains in Houston, and his Draped Seated Woman ended up tarred and feathered in the Ruhr.

The current show attempts to go back behind Moore's smooth beneficent public face to the secret impulses that prompted this visceral response. Its catalogue explores the turbulence and terror of what everyone who knew him agreed was a ferocious inner life, and traces his responses to the Spanish civil war as well as to the two world wars he lived through. The show stops in the late 50s, well short of the industrial production line he eventually set up to accommodate vastly increased output and incomings. It is a magnificent rehabilitation but it could have finished the job by arguing that Moore in his last two decades, when he modelled his work out of cheap, flimsy materials such as plaster, wax and polystyrene, was still as far ahead of his times as he always had been.

"It's having the idea how to do it that is difficult," he said, "not the physical effort." Moore's work, supremely visual, sensual and tactile in its early phases, remained intensely reflective to the end. He said he could never read a book on a train for fear of missing something outside the window. He started from the Yorkshire moors that surrounded him in childhood, incorporating in his work the forms of their component parts: caves, crags, hillsides, flints, pebbles, shells and bones. "You can feel that a bone has had some sort of use in its life; it has experienced tensions, has supported weights and has actually performed an organic function."

You could say the same of Moore's work over the entire span of his career. His early pieces go back to a world in some ways almost unimaginably different from our own. He went on to mirror in his work a communal postwar response to wholesale destruction, atrocity and dispersal as well as to the slow, brutal process of reconstruction that followed. He ended up complementing on a global scale the vast, bland, impersonal constructions of the evolving urban landscape that was his as much as ours.

Henry Moore is at Tate Britain until 8 August. Tel: 020 7887 8888. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 23 2010

Smooth operator

Curvy, feminine, ubiquitous – Henry Moore's work has become part of the British landscape. Adrian Searle discovers the artist's darker side in a new show

Among a number of small and often strange ­humanoid sculptures ­sitting on low plinths in Tate Britain's Henry Moore exhibition, there is an object that made me laugh out loud. But it was a laugh tempered by ­uncertainty. A small slabby thing carved from warm Corsehill stone, the sculpture appears to represent a man lying in a bath, his arms at his sides, staring down at his own erection.

It's the sort of universal situation any man might recognise. The head, at one end of the slab, is like a grave-stone and pierced by a single hole. At the other end is a rounded bulge, from which protrudes an elongated wedge-like ridge, riding up his torso and terminating between two bumpy little breasts. Maybe it's not a man after all, nor a person in a bath, but some sort of woman. This is yet another of Moore's reclining figures, from 1933-4, but it could be a funerary slab from some ­ancient, even alien civilisation. What on earth was Moore thinking?

Another sculpture nearby, carved in the same stone, is most definitely female, this time upright – a rounded, almost jug-like form with two pert breasts. Woman as vessel, then. Yet the head, again pierced by a single hole, is almost penile. So, too, is the head of a third sculpture, a head-and-shoulders carved in African wonderstone, a glassy black volcanic rock, part of which is striated with faint concentric bands of colour, spreading like little seismic ripples. The entire sculpture seems to grow from these rings. It's a weighty thing that you want to touch and hold, to feel its mass, its sexy, bulging, androgynous smoothness.

These smaller sculptures, which Moore produced throughout his long career, repay all the attention you give them. The longer you look, the stranger they are. There are dismembered bodies, bowling-ball heads that want to eat smaller heads, holes that want to accept protruberences, body parts that morph into other body parts. One translucent alabaster sculpture describes a baby's head suckling at a breast – or does the breast suckle at the child? The whole thing has a sort of yearning, merging feel, and reminds me of the sculpted heads of Medardo Rosso, who died in 1928, two years ­before Moore carved this.

A lot of what Moore did has an almost feminine feel. This is not just because he made so many sculptures of mothers and infants, nor because (as he admitted) he had a bit of a mother fixation. It is as much in his play of insides and outsides, in the flow of forms and space. There is also something inescapably phallic about many of Moore's women, and in the male and female dualities even of his ­abstract forms. Moore never read Freud, though throughout the 1920s and 30s the discoveries of psychoanalysis were very much in the air.

Moore's smaller sculptures can be threatening, too. A number of little reclining figures from the end of the 1930s are made from lead, a material that attracted Moore because of its ­poisonous nature. The small bodies look as if they have been licked into shape. Light flows queasily over their smooth grey surfaces. It is as if they have been infected by Salvador Dalí and the bad android in Terminator 2. But what Moore appears to have been infected by, mostly, was Picasso – whose biographer, John Richardson, said that Moore was the "petit-maitre of Picasso's bone-surreal", a cruel but fitting jibe. Giacometti's surrealist work, as well as that of Jean Arp and other European artists have left their mark. Moore looked long and hard at a great deal of what inspired other artists of the period: African carvings; Mayan, Egyptian and early Iberian sculpture – art that was called "primitive". He ­buried himself in the British Museum and the Trocadero in Paris, knew ­Giacometti, and visited Picasso when the latter was painting Guernica.

Morbid and sexual undertones

So used are we to Henry Moore, we hardly give him the time his art ­deserves. This aim of this exhibition, which takes us from the 1920s up to the 1970s, is to show us his morbid and ­sexual undertones. The show avoids much of Moore's later work, when the artist went into production mode, making a form of sculpture that blinds us to his real achievements. All those public things on plinths, from Harlow New Town to Tokyo; all those British Council-sponsored exhibitions that ­forever circumnavigate the globe. Moore's bronze editions of ­interlocking, rounded forms with their hollows and holes and fussy, scaly surfaces have ­become so much street furniture.

The impression I grew up with was of a domesticated modernist, already old hat, so ubiquitous one almost didn't need to look. He was just there. It is the artist's smaller, more private works I like the best, the ones that don't appease airy humanist ­sentiment. The exhibition's curator, Chris Stephens, also hopes to present a Moore whose preoccupation was the human body as, in Stephens's words, "abject, erotic, vulnerable, violated and visceral . . . absurd, uncanny and claustrophobic". Ooh-err, what's come over our Henry, king of the sucked-toffee blob in the town square? The mother-and-child-friendly sculptor?

What Stephens really wants to do is give us a Moore for our time. A Moore who might hang out with Georges Bataille and the dissident ­surrealist crowd, a Moore to set ­beside Giacometti and Hans Bellmer, or even Louise Bourgeois, Paul ­McCarthy, Bruce Nauman and Thomas Schütte. It's true that Nauman has nodded to Moore in a couple of works, while Schütte's reclining steel women owe some of their deformations to Moore. What began as jokes at Moore's ­expense in the sausage ­sculptures of Fischli and Weiss, and in the ­performances of Bruce McLean, has ended as a kind of homage.

Sympathy for elms

There is a falling off in Moore's post-second world war work, although the reclining figure he made for the 1951 Festival of Britain remains a ­peculiar, startling and troubling thing. It is not a million miles from Francis ­Bacon's 1944 Studies at the Base of a ­Crucifixion – if one could imagine those figures spending a day at the beach. But it is in the last room – just when the show, and Moore's art, seems to flag – that things really come alive again. Four great elm carvings ­dominate the space, filling the air with their lovely reflected light. Each, again, is a reclining figure. The first is dated 1936, the last 1976-8. In this room, their scale seems just right. There is a sense of massive slumber and waiting.

But what really strikes me is Moore's craftsmanship, his understanding and sympathy towards the great hunks of elm, the way he followed the grain and density of the wood when he hollowed space and revealed form. He let the material do the talking, and respected its nature. People don't talk much of "truth to materials" nowadays. I don't really go in for all the mythic ­qualities these recumbent figures might have, but they do have real presence. All the smoothing and rounding and ­hollowing of the forms, even their facelessness, has a point. There is a sense of great gravity and rest. The sculptures slow time down to a full stop, and us with it. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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