Untitled (Henry Moore)

I never really liked Henry Moore’s sculptures. Maybe because of their ubiquity and kind of obviousness – as emblematic of Modernism, of the institution, of Art History, and of ‘masculinity.’

She didn’t like Henry Moore’s sculptures, she told me while pinning up her photographs for critique. Her black and white prints were compositionally even with a full range of tone. Technically, they were good prints. I think I gave her an A on the assignment. The photographs displayed a series of singularly and centrally framed sculptures that were oriented at a significant distance from the camera. Because of this distance, there was a relative lack of detail in the sculptures, while the surrounding well-groomed foliage and swept paved paths were more complex and nuanced formally. In this sense, the sculptures were less a focal point than a visual anchor and although the photographs depicted the Henry Moore sculptures, they weren’t really about the sculptures as much as their situatedness, their context. The photographs were about the frame.

Right now I’m writing this text, crouching, facing a relatively small, seemingly derivative Henry Moore sculpture situated within an ovoid series of medium-sized trees on a slight hill. I left The Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park path with the intention to take a closer look at the work’s surface, but I first searched for its title card. I tend to read the title card after first glance, if the thing compels me. Then I tend to spend some time looking at the work again for some time, until I can start to articulate the punctum.

I’ve been writing for about fifteen minutes. I scanned the area around the sculpture thoroughly from my standing position. I walked slowly towards and past the sculpture while continuing to look around for the title card. I rotated around to face the sculpture and the direction that I had just come – no title card. I crouched down.

The title card is definitely out-of-sight and beyond the immediate thirty foot radius around the work. It is probably out-of-view from my crouched, Northwest-facing, uphill position. The work is surrounded by about twenty trees, each species identified by small dark green plaques (similar to that which I’m looking for to describe this small Henry Moore sculpture):

Eastern White Pine
Pinus strobus

Scotch Pine
Pinus sylvestris

Kousa Dogwood
Cornus kousa

The trees are comparable in height, approximately forty feet, and the foliage is just tall enough to provide almost complete shade in the ovoid grassy space in which the work is located.

I’m kneeling with my left hand on my chin, elbow on my left thigh, sitting on my left foot. I’m almost entirely looking at my notebook as I write. My notebook is partially atop my denim Artists Space tote bag, which I had found at Strand, abandoned or forgot by a bookseller. For some time I had really wanted one of these totes, which I first saw on one of my interns at the gallery. I liked the unique look of a denim tote (it seemed ‘masculine’), but moreover, I was especially fond of the quote reproduced, silkscreened on the bag in Helvetica, white:


Louise Lawler and
Sherrie Levine, 1981

The bag is on the grass. The grass is cut short. I place my left index finger vertically – tip touching the earth to measure its height. The blades mostly reach the midpoint between my knuckle and first finger joint. My left foot, which I am sitting on, is starting to fall asleep. I am now sitting on this subtly sloping hill, about five feet from the Henry Moore sculpture. Both of my knees are bent – the left sides of my legs against the ground – I’m leaning forward with my weight over my left knee to compensate for the incline, which increases to my rear. The shade is moving to where the sun is now falling on my body, my head, my hand, my notebook, my tote, the relatively short grass and the low, light limestone base which provides a level platform for this small, inconspicuous Henry Moore sculpture.

Research Photograph, Signage, Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, MO 2014. Photo by the author.

Research Photograph, Signage, Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, MO 2014. Photo by the author.

The sculpture is small in terms of Moore’s oft-massive forms. This work, similarly biomorphic and bronze, is approximately six feet tall, four feet wide, and three feet deep. The work is curvaceous, irregular, but consistently treated. The surface features relatively long and significant scratches. Some are more pronounced than others but nearly all are around five inches in length and run alongside one another in patches. The scratches are not straight and overlap. They are consistent in quality and width – as if made by a tool. The surface also has smoothed areas, while some of its most exterior edges and ridges have been worn to almost a very dull polish. There are smaller pockmarks and deeper, shorter, wider, indentations, occasionally throughout the surface.

The sculpture is basically a highly modeled archway form. The two vertical elements of the ‘arch’ are similar in size, oblong, quite deep in dimension, but narrow. These vertical elements make up the lower three-quarters of the form, culminating in a shallow, horizontal, voluminous arc section that is set back or off-center in relation to the vertical elements and the base. In total, the curvature of the form is enclosing, encompassing, and rather elliptical. What it encloses (unlike Henry Moore’s more exemplary works which reflect mass occupying space and interconnection) is a significant opening of space. The sculpture is a frame.

The work’s central region frames a view of the surrounding well-trimmed trees, the low-cut grass, the paved pathway, the surrounding roads and traffic, other Henry Moore sculptures, etc. The frame is partially shadowed by that of a tree branch moving slightly. It is morning. The sunlight falls on the near edges of this small arch-like Henry Moore sculpture situated within a kind of oval grassy area surrounded by healthy trees approximately forty feet tall. Sunlight falls against my body, my notebook, my hand, my bag, and the grass. The shadow of my head, including the outline of my glasses frames, falls on my bag and the lawn. Sunlight hitting the edge of my glasses lens causes an irregular light refraction composed of a series of small luminous circular forms to fall on the following blank page of my notebook.

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