Great art is not perfect. […] Perfectionist art does not move me.
Henry Moore 1957
Henry Moore (1898–1986) is seen today as one of the most important English sculptors of the 20th century. His early work from the 1920s and 1930s was initially controversial, as the distortions and simplifications of the human figure were seen as an attack on traditional forms of representation.
Moore continued his liberation of the figure from the classical tradition. His engagement with so-called ‘primitive’ art as well as with contemporary sculptural forms of expression were of great importance to Moore’s development. He regularly visited the British Museum in London, where he devoted intense study to non-European art. In Paris he also made contact with the avant-garde – with Constantin Brancusi and Pablo Picasso, among others.
In the 1930s Moore increasingly developed abstract biomorphic forms. He based these on his collection of bones, shells and stones, in which he was able to study natural metamorphosis – growth, wear, change. His artistic goal was to create living forms as nature does. For that reason he emphasized the direct treatment of the material – stone or wood. Only later did he also have his sculptures cast in metal. Moore became one of the protagonists of the London art scene. He expressed himself in several essays about his own work, and assumed an autonomous position. At the same time, he refused to allow himself to be entirely co-opted by contemporary art movements, either by Surrealism or geometrical abstraction.
During the Second World War Moore fled the air raids on London for the countryside, where he lived until his death. During that time he produced only a few sculptures, but captured the situation of people seeking refuge in the London Underground in numerous drawings. In the post-war era Moore increasingly had the opportunity to show his works abroad. He also realized large numbers of commissions for art in the public space. His sculptural work was concentrated, as it had been before the war, on the depiction of the human figure. Now he was criticised by younger artists, because clinging to figuration was considered too traditionalist. Whether Moore was making abstract or figurative sculptures, he was always concerned with developing a universal pictorial language out of elemental forms.
In his late work above all he produced an extensive body of over 700 lithographs. This shift from sculpture to printed work may also have had something to do with the ageing artist’s declining manpower. With his printed works Moore created a new artistic space for himself far from his sculptural works.
The exhibition shows with 28 sculptures and 42 works on paper from the collections of the Tate and the British Council for the first time in 25 years in Switzerland an overview of the work of one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century.