Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Henry Moore

Last night the BBC dedicated a hour to the celebration of the work of Henry Moore- currently the subject of a big retrospective in London. There was a lot of affection for Moore the man and respect for his role as Britain's first ever artist-superstar- but no-one stepped back from one of his sculptures and went "My God, but that's amazing!" Like the BBC I've been trying very hard to work up an enthusiasm for that seemingly endless sequence of blocky madonnas and reclining nudes with holes in them- but I'm not succeeding.

Moore's great champion when he was alive was the urbane and silky Kenneth Clark, purveyor of civilised values to the masses. After the show was over I got down the book of Clark's remarkable TV series and turned to the final pages. Clark's survey of Civilisation ends c.1900 with the demise of Tolstoy- and a headshaking admission of befuddlement in the face of everything that happened between then and 1969- when the series was first aired. To what extent can one trust the judgement of a man whose response to the amazing art of his own times was to scratch his head and wonder if the long ships wouldn't shortly be oaring up our rivers?  So he liked Moore did he? So much the worse for Moore!
It's not exactly Moore's fault that he became Clark's darling- and the darling of all those corporations that wanted something jumboesque to put in their forecourts.  He was an honest artist and a lovely craftsman- and if he came to believe himself to be a genius and one of the greatest artists of all time, that goes with the territory. Picasso was a big-head too.  Thing is, Picasso was justified in his self-belief. Towards the end of his life Moore offered a shed-full of his works to the Tate- a donation that would have necessitated the building of a brand new Henry Moore wing- and a petition was sent round- and signed by a host of arts world luminaries- urging the Tate's management to turn it down. The petition succeeded. This was- as Anthony Caro- one of the signatories-  admitted- a mean thing to do.  It also happened to be right.  Moore had got above himself- and  simply wasn't good enough to merit that sort of national shrine.  In the event the shed-full of works went to the city of Toronto. Lucky them!
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