When Lee Miller, Peggy Guggenheim, Benjamin Britten, Graham Greene, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko and Lauren Bacall are among the guests you remember coming round for tea during your teenage years, chances are, you had a rather unusual childhood. “I suppose I did have this unbelievably unconventional upbringing, with all these extraordinary people just rolling up to the house – but to me, it seemed very normal,” reflects Mary Moore, who grew up in Hertfordshire with her father, the great British sculptor Henry Moore, and his Russian wife, Irina Radetsky. “We were this tiny tribe – a threesome – and art was our religion.”
Now 74, Moore is collaborating with the Henry Moore Foundation on an exhibition of her father’s work at Hauser & Wirth Somerset that will take as its starting point his fascination with the nearby Neolithic site of Stonehenge. “He first visited it in 1921, and it made a lasting impression on him,” she says. “He arrived by moonlight, which tends to make things look larger, so it must have seemed enormous.” She hopes to recreate that sense of awe in the Somerset show, where visitors will be able to wander among bronze, marble and plaster works displayed to dramatic effect across five galleries and outdoors. “The whole point about sculpture is that you don’t just see it from a distance – it’s a confrontational thing where you and the object come together wordlessly, and you have a kind of subliminal, unspoken reaction that comes from your visual and emotional intelligence, rather than your intellect,” she says.
Moore has, clearly, inherited her father’s passion for teaching – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that she was for many years his favourite student. “I realise now that I was exposed to a very grown-up environment,” she muses. “Every discussion we had was about art, and lots of our games involved guessing distances or weights, or trying to draw three-dimensional shapes. All the time, he was teaching me to think in a sculptural way.” She recalls frequent rounds of ‘blind golf’, a complicated-sounding challenge involving drawing a golf course on a large piece of paper and using a pencil to reach each hole while blindfolded; and recounts an anecdote about how, at her seventh birthday party, her father brought in a set of bathroom scales so he could estimate the weight of each child. “And he could get it right, to within two pounds!” she says, laughing.
The house, Hoglands, was constantly brimming with curiosities: bones, skeletons, African masks and tribal objects gathered in the pursuit of knowledge; shells, flints and stones collected on family trips to the beach at Broadstairs. “They were like my father’s notebook – a kind of shorthand for when he was thinking about or exploring a certain form,” explains Moore. At Hauser & Wirth, she is curating a vitrine of more than 100 artworks and mementos from his studio and their home, revealing Henry as an artist who was deeply engaged with both history and the landscape that surrounded him. “Culturally and geographically, his working practice did away with every boundary, every border, connecting him with Romanesque architects and mediaeval stonemasons, with craftspeople across the centuries,” she says. A consummate carver, he always made art outdoors, in daylight – a habit that set him apart from the Edwardian tradition of working with plaster cast in a studio.
In that sense, Henry Moore was far more radical than we sometimes give him credit for, familiar as we are with his work today. He “broke the mould entirely”, says Moore, pointing to his experiments with depth and distance, space and solidity, and the way he went beyond abstraction and figuration to enter a more primal sphere. “The remarkable thing about my father was the way he could connect with his own subconscious and everyone else’s, and somehow channel that into his drawing and sculpture,” observes Moore. “There are certain forms – the reclining figure, the mother and child – that have meaning to all societies across the globe, and he was sensitive enough to plug into those.” Hence her view that seeing his work should be less about interpretation than confrontation and recognition.
What, then, does she hope for the show at Hauser & Wirth? “That when you come out the other side, your world is changed. Because every time you look at a rock, or a tree, or a sculpture, you bring more insight to bear – it flexes a muscle that lots of us don’t feel we have the time to use… but that I,” she adds thoughtfully, “have been flexing all my life.”
‘Henry Moore: Sharing Form’ is at Hauser & Wirth Somerset from 28 May until 4 September.
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