Henry Moore in the Sunday Times for oh-so-many reasons. Most interesting here is the accusation that Henry Moore's underground pictures were based on a Picture Post story by Bert Hardy. He also touches on the rebranding of Moore for the exhibition.
A huge Henry Moore exhibition is heading our way, and one of the things it seems determined to prove is that Moore was not who we think he was. The avuncular Yorkshireman with the cloth cap and the polite twinkle was just a front. Underneath, he was altogether darker, edgier, weirder. According to the catalogue of this image-denting event at Tate Britain, the country’s most popular post-war artist was actually driven by powerful secret urges. His art may usually have appeared pleasantly blobby and as sentimental as a Christmas card from yer nan, but its real aim was to explore aspects of the human condition that were “abject, erotic, vulnerable and visceral”. The Tate is about to imply that Postman Pat was Hannibal Lecter!
Or something like that. At the very least, the show is suggesting that Moore was a dissembler, a pretender, who explained one thing while he did another. To make its point, it will re-examine his so-called Shelter Drawings, the distressing images he made in the early years of the second world war, of wrapped-up Londoners huddled in temporary shelters on the London Underground, waiting darkly for the bombs to pass.
The shelter drawings are probably the most celebrated works Moore ever made, and certainly the best loved. They seemed to capture, so movingly, the resilience and stoicism of the British during the Blitz. Buried together in their living tombs, swaddled like bandaged maggots, the poor, sightless London masses are silently withstanding everything that Jerry could throw at them. These weren’t just scenes of solemn resistance on the Underground. This was the most moving portrayal of the unbreakable British spirit anyone had ever produced. Or so we thought.
By 1980, there had already been 70 ambitious Moore exhibitions in 25 countries. Anyone wishing to get away from his work would have needed the escape skills of Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett and his boys. What have they got outside Unesco in Paris? A Henry Moore. What stands outside the Lincoln Center in New York? A Henry Moore. What sits on a plinth outside our Houses of Parliament? A Henry Moore. What do I see every day on my constitutional as I tramp from Hampstead Heath to Kenwood House? A goddam Henry Moore.
We are dealing here with a presence so vast and total and thrusting that it felt like a pillow being pushed down on your head. A fame so suffocating that it seemed to cut off your air supply. When the acerbic Tom Wolfe made his famous complaint about modern art, that it had led to the depositing of “a turd in every plaza”, whose ubiquitous turds did he have in mind? Henry Moore’s.
So when Moore finally expired after his seemingly interminable gong-encrusted innings, I confess to feeling little sadness and lots of relief. Everyone else must have felt this way too, because the avoidance of him that started the moment he died was, in its way, every bit as spectacular as his fame had been. Overnight, a total silence on the subject of Henry Moore appeared to descend upon the land.
How interesting, then, that the new Henry the Tate is hoping to slide by us is distinguished by hidden sexual yearnings and dark copyright steals. It’s a thoroughly predictable rebrand: Marks & Spencer getting taken over by Agent Provocateur. Frankly, you would have to be as eyeless and blind as one of Moore’s reclining blobbies not to suspect naughty origins for his provocative lumps and bumps: the sunken sculptural orifices, the dangly protruding bits.
What does it all prove? That Moore was sneaky? Oh, yes. That you should never trust a straight-talking Yorkshireman? Oh, yes. That he dissembled and plotted and hid his sources? Oh, yes. That all this newly discovered deviousness is the tip of an iceberg, and that beneath the avuncular surface of Henry Moore an inferno was probably burning? Oh, yes.