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The First Henry Moore Exhibit In Nearly 20 Years

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Dallasites who seldom visit the city?s museum, let alone its somewhat hidden sculpture garden, may only know of Henry Moore from the huge bronze sculpture of bone-like, soft edged pieces in front of Dallas City Hall. Called ?3 Forms Vertebrae,? or just ?the Dallas piece,? it represents what the artist had already pioneered by the time it was installed in 1979 - large, outdoor, and somewhat abstract sculptures. Anita Feldman Bennet is the curator of the Henry Moore Foundation, based in England.

Anita Feldman Bennet, curator, Henry Moore Foundation: The whole idea of a monument had changed. Moore?s work took on greater scale and became sort of community focused, creating things that united communities. Towards 1959, he had a more a personal search, and developed the figure as landscape more completely by dividing the figure. So you have these two and three-piece compositions emerging.

Zeeble: Like his other outdoor art, Moore intended the Dallas piece to be something other than the traditional historic figure on a horse, or the recent cowboys and longhorns on the cattle drive just a few hundred yards down the street. A model of the Moore sculpture, now owned by Ray Nasher, is also on display at the DMA. Sculptor John Farnham, who worked with Moore and helped install the Dallas piece, says Moore positioned the three parts with great care.

John Farnham, sculptor, Henry Moore Foundation: It?s in a triangle. So people can walk between them and through them. As we brought them back from being cast, we put them down on the ground, and then he realized it would be nice to play around with them more. So we lifted them around and came up with a new configuration for Dallas, of the same piece. He did that all the time. Zeeble: Playful, creative, ground-breaking, and always working with life-like forms. These were cornerstones of Moore?s work throughout his artistic life, that stretched roughly from the 1920s, when he was in his 20s, to his death in 1986 at the age of 88. But before doing his monumental outdoor pieces, he worked small. In wood and stone. Pieces that could sit on a table top. Many from the late ?20s carried titles like ?Mother and Child,? ?Reclining Figure,? or ?Family.?Dorothy Kosinski, organizing curator, ?Henry Moore: Sculpting the 20th Century?: And these early works are fascinating, and connect very strongly with his later development.

Zeeble: Dorothy Kosinski, with the Dallas Museum of Art, is organizing curator of ?Henry Moore: Sculpting the 20th Century.?

Kosinski: He was drawn to these themes and images that communicate with great authority because they?re so known, they?re part of our aesthetic vocabulary. You see rather traditional interpretations, but what?s fascinating, in a year so, you find radical renewed exploration of the theme.

Zeeble: Kosinski challenges anyone to guess that the small moon-like rounded organic figures from the 1930s she?s in front of are a mother and child. She says Moore?s work from that decade established him among Europe?s avant-garde artists. Reviews of a 1931 gallery show mentioned a cult of ugliness.

Kosinski: They spoke of how offensive these works would be to women and children. There was a moral quality of outrage at this type of statuary. Now, after a century of modernism and abstraction, our eyes are not offended by this work. Maybe we?re curious to try and rediscover the vitality that startled people in the 1930s.

Zeeble: Equally startling in the ?30s were the ever-larger elmwood sculptures of reclining figures. Moore created six throughout his life, four of which are in this show. Kosinski says getting one of the elmwoods, in particular, was a real coup.

Kosinski: This is an object that?s almost never been lent, from Wakefield, England. When the director came as the courier with this work, he was almost trembling with anxiety. He?d been told that Henry Moore himself said, ?Never lend this; it?s precious. You keep this.?

Zeeble: The Moore Foundation, she says, helped convince the director to temporarily part with the 1936 work. Moore Foundation curator Anita Feldman Bennet is as passionate about another elmwood figure as Moore seemed to be about the wood itself. Her favorite was sculpted in 1939.

Bennet: What Moore?s done is taken a block of elmwood from a single piece and extended limitations as far as possible. So you have amazing hollows and caverns and spaces all through the figure, and holes through the shoulder blades. There are really interesting vistas through the piece itself. It?s a constant surprise. As you walk ?round it, you don?t know what you?ll see next. It?s actually kind of amazing.

Zeeble: Henry Moore?s daughter Mary says he was constantly influenced by modern and ancient art, from works by Picasso, Mondrian, or Leger to pre-Colombian statues or Greek art he?d see in British museums.

Mary Moore, Henry Moore?s daughter: He looked at art of any period as if they were alive now, and he judged himself alongside them and their works. I grew up thinking these artists, like Shakespeare, were with one, and there all the time. That?s how you judged what was happening in contemporary art, against the greats of history.

Zeeble: Mary Moore says her father did not consider himself among the very top rank of artists, but England did. The nation eventually wanted to knight him. He refused the honor. A veteran of trench warfare in World War I, he was too old to fight in World War II. So England asked him to chronicle wartime life at home. His numerous paintings and sketches from the ?40s rank among this exhibit?s most riveting and powerful works, ones almost unknown because - after all - Moore was a sculptor.

Kosinski: These are extraordinary drawings

Zeeble: Again, Dorothy Kosinski.

Kosinski: These drawings of the figures huddled in the Underground, in the tube stations, there?s a sense of vitality. There?s a poignancy about his response to the dilemma of London during the bombing. There?s a sense of humanistic urgency he conveys.

Zeeble: Kosinski says Moore?s contemplation of destruction and brutality carried through to sculptures of fallen warriors based on Greek art. Kosinski: This seated warrior with shield, without arm and leg, the surface; very brutal, there is this sense of raw vitality.

Zeeble: Yet, says his daughter Mary, war was not all-consuming for her father. She says like many others, he rarely talked of his own experiences. And when a post-war festival celebrating England?s revival was held in 1951, Moore once again sculpted a reclining figure. And he continued his variations on the mother and child theme in stone, wood and metal. Moore was always working at home, where Mary could play alongside him in his studio, next to his many now famous pieces. Even on their modest beach vacations, where they stayed in one room of a boarding house, he worked.

Mary Moore: On this beach we would collect stones, pebbles. In fact, some of the pebbles you see in the museum, those were the kinds he?d collect. So he?d walk along the beach finding pebbles, maybe drawing as well. We?d drive home with the car boot filled with pebbles, absolutely weighed down with pebbles.

Zeeble: Ultimately, Moore?s daughter says, these objects represented something human to him, and always inspired her father?s art. Moore: So I suppose when he?s making a sculpture about a mother and child, he?s talking about the relationship of the two forms, the larger and smaller, and protectiveness of the larger to the smaller in an abstract way. But he?s also understanding how that works in human terms as well.

Zeeble: That bridge to humanity, says Mary Moore, is so evident and obvious today, she believes that?s why her father?s sculptures have so much strength, meaning and life, 15 years after his death. ?Henry Moore: Sculpting the 20th Century? continues at the Dallas Museum through May 27th. For KERA 90.1, I?m Bill Zeeble.