Modernism/modernity 10.2 (2003) 400-402
[Access article in PDF]
Henry Moore Writings and Conversations. Alan Wilkinson, ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. 21 + 300. $50.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).
At the start of his career, Henry Moore was at war with a Philistine public who believed that sculpture was a "dead art", something one "bump[ed] into" or "knock[ed]" one's "head against" whilst looking at oil painting (180). Since that time, and at least in part because of Moore's achievement, twentieth-century art and cultural history has been increasingly subject to a "sculptural turn". This still growing interest, and the fact that it has been over thirty years since the publication of the last selection of Moore's writings, Philip James's Henry Moore on Sculpture (1966), makes the publication of a new selection of Moore's writings and conversations both welcome and timely. Since the mid-1960s, of course, as Alan Wilkinson points out in his helpful introduction to the new volume, much new material has come to light: not only subsequent writings by Moore, but transcripts of films and radio broadcasts about the sculptor, a sizeable archive of his earlier notes, and many pieces of reminiscence and criticism, all of which are well-represented here, divided into five thematic sections. These comprise Moore's remarks on his friends and colleagues; on ancient, medieval, primitive and modern art and artists; on his own works; and, perhaps most interestingly, on his life and influences, and on the materials, methods, nature and contexts of sculpture more generally. The thematic arrangement of the volume results in some unnecessary repetition of material, but for both the casual and serious reader it collects very usefully Moore's disparate statements on various topics, and leaves standing Moore's contradictions and inconsistencies, giving a suggestive indication of how his thinking evolved over time and varied in different contexts. [End Page 400]
From the volume, it is not, however, entirely clear whether Moore would have welcomed Wilkinson's editorial undertaking. After all, although he wrote prolifically, Moore argued that it was a "mistake" for a sculptor to "speak or write very often about his job", since he believed that by having to express his aims with language's "rounded-off logical exactness", he risked reducing his work's "non-logical, instinctive, subconscious" elements and its complex "intellectual and emotional" ramifications to mere "description or reminiscence" (12, 193-94). It is, perhaps, for this reason, combined with the excerpt formula of the anthology, that Moore's writing appears here to be so tantalizingly suggestive and Modernist; and Moore's prescience and continuing relevance provide some of the volume's chief pleasures. Indeed, in light of the "phenomenological turn" observed by Alex Potts in recent sculpture studies, and the recent investigations into the fascinating inter-relationship between sculpture and psychoanalysis in inter-war Britain, Moore's remarks are often startling. 1 This is the case particularly in Section IV on the crucial three-dimensionality of the sculptural encounter and on the spectator's body as the medium through which the sculptural object is perceived, and in Section I on his early life. (With Moore's phenomenology in mind, it is a pity that this amply-illustrated volume, helpfully displaying Moore's work in a variety of different contexts, does not contain photographs of his work from more than one angle or distance).
Moore may not, like his contemporary Adrian Stokes, have undergone analysis with Melanie Klein, but Section I reveals that he was nevertheless both acutely aware of psychoanalytic discourse and helpfully resistant to it. For those who want Moore illustrating standard Kleinian doctrine, his description of the 1952 Mother and Child maquette illustrated in the volume will satisfy: Moore here describes and depicts the baby as a "ravenous" animal seeking to "devour" its mother who had to "protect" herself from her offspring. More interesting, however, are those moments when Moore comes across as more ambivalently "[J]ung and easily [F]reudianed", in Joyce's apt phrase. 2 For example, throughout his autobiographical fragments, Moore repeatedly...