Monday, September 24, 2007

Henry Moore at Kew

As you may remember I have been trying to educate myself about art. Living in London has really helped with this, as I have access to several galleries with very different collections. Just occasionally though something really special comes up. I had no idea whether or not I would like Moore's sculptures but I knew enough to know that seeing 28 of them out in Kew gardens was something not to miss.

Fortunately I have a friend who is a fan of Moore and quite happy to join me in a walk around the gardens. Even more luckily we chose to go yesterday, which seems to have been the last day of summer, today we have had some significant storms but yesterday was a wonderful warm late summer day. Blogger being blogger has chosen it's own order for the pictures and I think I will just work with it rather than trying to shuffle them all around. It actually fits how it felt when we were walking around. We kept getting the feeling we weren't looking at things in the order the guide expected, which was rather nice. We would come to our own conclusions about the work we were looking at, only to have our thoughts confirmed by the write up on the next sculpture. I guess ti show how successful Moore is with what he does.

This first piece here is 'Knife Edge Two Piece', it was made in the 1960's. Like many of the pieces it has many different looks depending on the angle you view it from. I think this was my favourite, although we stopped for a break in the afternoon and the bench we chose was in a group of trees and I could see this sculpture through the trees, what was beautiful too. This was a very solid feeling piece and I loved the sharpness of the edge. It was interesting to be able to touch the sculpture. Touch is such and important sense and when viewing art we normally don't get to use it. Given that most of the works are cast in bronze, it is surprising how different they all feel.

The second picture is of possibly the busiest of the sculptures. 'Two Large Forms' was absolutely swarmed over by children. Although there were a lot of signs warning people not to climb on the sculpture most of them had soft bark chippings around them so I guess they expected a certain amount of climbing. I was torn between feeling people should have obeyed the signs and thinking it was great that children were getting so much out of the art. Maybe if they find art fun at an early age it will be easier for them to enjoy it later in life. This picture was taken standing inside the sculpture.

Next we have one of Henry Moores many reclining figures. This one is 'Reclining Figure' from 1982. I had expected to like the reclining women a lot, but actually I struggle with the distorted proportions they have. I love the hair, which looks like a bun to me and nearly all the ladies have it, but the faces with two holes as eyes and the nipple holes are almost disturbing. I guess it has to be said they are effective, I know what he is showing, but I don't think it is for me.

'Oval with Points' had a great position within the gardens, it was positioned in the middle of one of the long vistas. I think this was the piece that really made it clear to me what appeals about Henry Moore I like looking at landscaped through his sculptures. They work almost like frames, and in doing so they seem to change the landscape you are looking at. I think I could have spent hours looking at all the new shapes they make. This was possibly the best for revealing itself slowly, something they were intended to do. As we approached the sculpture looks fairly flat. It looks like it will be shaped like a washer with the hole through it, but as you walk around it you find the other side bulges and looking at it edge on there are even more shapes and patterns. I just wish I could have been there without all the people. I would have loved a photograph of the empty landscape through the hole. The guide book only have the view looking the other way back towards the palm house.

After finding I liked the landscapes framed by bits of sculpture I started taking a lot of pictures using the sculptures rather than just of the sculptures. This is one I particularly liked. It is the 'Double Oval' framing the Orangery restaurant. There are several places to eat at Kew in some lovely buildings. I would love to see an orangery in use, but they refreshments were good and they weren't even too busy, so I guess I can't complain.

This was one of the pieces where we commented on it similarity to bones, right before reading a piece about how Moore was inspired by bones. Yay, he conveyed his inspiration and we understood it. OK that may not seem like a big deal, but coming from an entirely science background I have found art to be something of a mystery so seeing what I am supposed to s a sign of progress (and a good artists work). This one is called 'Reclining Connected Forms' which doesn't say much to me, but then I see bones and joints and think far more literally when looking at names. I like the idea of castings, because there are multiple copies of each piece. I had thought this would devalue art in some way, but I'm not so sure now. Isn't it a good thing to have a few copies so more people can enjoy them?

This seemed to be the biggest of the sculptures at Kew, and I was wondering how they brought it in. The guide book for the exhibition has some great pictures of it being craned into place all wrapped up, I wish I could have seen it being done. It must be very difficult installing multi part sculptures as you want to get the pieces exactly as the artist saw them. I suppose there must be some sort of assembly instructions that map out where thing hit the ground relative to each other, can you imaging how annoying it would be to have your work assembled incorrectly when it is this big? 'Large Reclining Figure' is resting by the lake in front of the palm house. It fits in well with all the people sitting by the lake and having their picnic with the swans and geese. Unlike most of the sculptures this one is fiberglass and feels a lot more temporary and fragile, something like egg shell.

Walking around the lake (I think it is a lake anyway, when does a pond become a lake?) you get this wonderful view of the palm house and the fountain. I can't believe how grey my pictures look, because it was really very sunny with the light reflecting off the water. For some reason that just hasn't come out. You can still see the wonderful shape of the palm house. Unfortunately we ran out of time so only managed a very quick look around but we have decided that when we go back you need to do it with a larger group of people. That way you can strip down to minimal clothes before going in and leave your friends outside looking after your belongings. It is very hot and humid in there (I know clue is in the name) and jeans and t-shirt was really too much clothing.

This is 'Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped' yes really. I've struggled to find out which one it was because they all show it from a very different angle, and it looks like and entirely different piece. I liked the draped effect from this position and I think the torso looks more elegant too. Just be warned that if you try to look it up in the guide book you do need to expect the other side. It's odd as most of the time I have taken very similar pictures to the official photographers, but here I seem to be very much in the minority.

Carrying on one of Henry Moore's favourite themes, we have 'Reclining Figure: Angles'. I liked the face on this one, I am more comfortable when there are more features, or perhaps when there is a definite nose. I'm not entirely sure which. I still find the distorted body shapes rather off putting though.

This is the Temperate House, given how much I like the building and how many pictures I took of it you my be surprised to hear that we didn't have time to visit it. Hopefully we will get to go back later in the year though and then spending time in the hot house will, I am sure, look very appealing. I would especially like to see the sculptures in the snow, I think they would look totally different in that setting. It might even be worth seeing them just with the winter trees, although there are a lot of conifers around so it won't be totally bleak. The guide book (for Kew itself) seems to say it contains a lake and plants from New Zealand and Australia. It certainly sounds good from the book. The interior architecture also looks stunning from the photographs. I can't wait to go back and have a good look around.

The Pagoda is another spectacular building within the gardens, apparently one of 25 special buildings designed for the gardens. Originally it was painted very brightly, with green and white roofs and the banisters in a mix of red, blue and green. It sounds a bit garish to me but I guess it was in style in the 18th century. It is not a 'proper' pagoda as really it should have an odd number of floors but it is so pretty I think I will let it off. I was really surprised by how solid it looks. I think of pagodas as being rather delicate things but this is a very solid brick structure with iron plates for the roofs.

I often buy guidebooks when I visit places but for some reason they always appeal more when I get home. I don't seem to want to read them when I am actually at the place. This is the first time I have felt the guide book would add to the visit. I bet I forget to take it with me when I go back. I've found out there are several follies I missed and a waterlily house. As I have plans to make a waterlily quilt I guess I have to go for research purposes. If I happen to see other things while I am there I can't really help it. I've been looking for inspiration for architectural quilts too, and the Temperate house may well be able to help with that.

Speaking of follies, we did find King William's Temple. Inside there are iron plaques commemorating British military victories from Minden to Waterloo. It was originally designed to complement the Temple of Victory, which is no longer standing. Something that did strike me at Kew was the number of columns. I wish people built more with columns now. I love them and there are so many different styles. I guess it is a matter of cost, but still they are great, someone must think they are worth the price.

When they were planning the Henry Moore exhibition at Kew they obviously put a lot of thought into where the pieces were going to fit best. There are many that frame wonderful views, there are ladies reclining in front of lovely buildings looking over gardens, and then there is the 'Goslar Warrior'. Where else would you put a soldier, but outside the Temple of Victory. When I look at this I see a soldier resting he is ready but at rest, the guide book however tells me that he is a falling warrior. It talks about him having a twisted thin body, which again is not at all what I see. I see an athletic body, I see the potential for power. It's interesting that this is the only piece where I am utterly at odds with the official description. It makes me want to see the other male forms, especially the warriors, as I feel I would like more data on how Moore represents these.

The last picture I am going to share here is of 'Large Upright Internal/External Form'. This was another piece placed in the middle of a wonderful long vista. It was particularly striking seeing it with the pagoda in the background but the path was so busy I couldn't get a good picture of it. As with many of the pieces it seems to require you to look at it from a lot of different angles, and I wish I could have got to see it as those setting it up did. There is a picture in the guide book of someone in a cherry picker inside it. That's not a view many people will get but I am sure it felt amazing. This has the potential to be one of the most enclosing of the pieces at Kew but being tall and thin (relatively) you can't really get into it.

If you are interested in the sculptures but can't get to Kew the guide book is full of good pictures and interesting text. Also they have a web site with a lot of information on about both this exhibition and Kew in general. If you are close enough to visit you really do need at least two days to see everything at Kew. We arrived fairly early and weren't quite thrown out, but I think we only saw slightly over half of what there was to see, and that involved a lot of rushing about in the late afternoon. Of course if you do fancy meeting up with me when you go do let me know I really want to go back sooner rather than later. Oh yes the exhibition is on until the 30th March 2008, I couldn't find that on their site.


Natalya said...

It sounds amazing, and you seemed to pick a good day weather wise. I remember studying Moore at school, but only from books. Your photos look great. Kew Gardens look interesting too.

Sequana said...

What a wonderful tour you just gave me over here in Chicago. I've seen a few Moore's in other cities. They fascinate me.

Thx so much for taking the time to tour us through.

Ferret said...

We were so lucky with the weather, I don't think we could have asked for better. I don't think art in books really works. I've been surprised by a lot of work when I have seen it in the flesh, but Moore is a really extreem example. I think it really needs to be seen in the setting it weas designed for, which is outside.
If you fancy going and having a look sometime I am sure we can come up with a plan.

Ferret said...

Glad you liked it Sequana. I did very much want to share the day with everyone. Hopefully one day you will get a chance to see them in person.

Feather on a Wire said...

OK, now I HAVE to go back to Kew to see these.
If you ever get to go to the Harrogate show, stop off at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it's amazing.

Ferret said...

Sounds like another reason to try and win something at Harrogate, I'd like to see more outdoor sculpture.

Diana said...

I enjoyed the good weather at Kew last Friday and thought the setting for the sculptures was excellent and inspiring as my 100+ photos taken will remind me. Like you, I look forward to seeing them in the snow and early spring.
If you think you might visit Kew frequently it's worth joining 'The
Friends'. Follw the links on the Kew website for details.

Ferret said...

I was looking at that. It looks like a very good deal. I think I took about 300 pictures this time, but there was so much I didn't see I know nest time will be as many.

So if it snows I might bump into you then :)

katelnorth said...

Thanks for sharing that - I didn't realise it was on, and I adore both Henry Moore and Kew. Guess I know what I'll be subjecting my kiddies to at half term (they are in for some serious culture this half term as we have tickets for the Chinese Warriors at the British Museum, too)!

magsramsay said...

It looks like you got a lot out of your visit.
I'm lucky to work at Kew Gardens and am spending my lunchtimes at the moment picking a sculpture and working my way round taking photos from every angle. I haven't managed to visit them all yet but I will. They look incredibly different even moving slightly.
If there's a particular sculpture you want extra shots of let me know.