Timeless values get a sculptural form

In the uncertain and scarred world that emerged after World War II, an art that captured the valor of human existence must have seemed like the comforting expression of a universal sentiment. However, the misuse of public, heroic sculpture by the totalitarian, European, prewar regimes had lessened both its appeal to an avant-garde artistic milieu and its effect on the public. The collective and the heroic was in need of a different visual language, more modern and less overt. The original art of Henry Moore was in many ways the perfect answer. Not uncritical of the heroic, yet not totally accepting of Modernism’s rejection of the art of remembrance, Moore’s art struck the ideal balance between the classical and the modern. Profoundly stirring and commemorative in a timeless rather than literal fashion, his art embodied all that was modern and everything that was deeply human. Moore expressed a universalizing rhetoric. He observed the human figure, nature and the art of other cultures and transformed their forms into a unifying, abstract visual language that brought out interconnections and revealed universal themes. «We must relate the human figure to animals, to clouds, to the landscape – bring them all together. There is no difference between them all,» he wrote. Christos Capralos, a rough contemporary of Moore’s and one of Greece’s most renowned sculptors, also spoke of human, universal values. Like Moore, he used an abstract visual language and sought to draw a timeless content out of the themes that he addressed. The decision by the National Glyptotheque (the newly inaugurated sculpture gallery of the National Gallery-Alexandros Soutzos Museum) to present works by the two artists in two exhibitions that although separate, are hosted in the same space and during the same period therefore seems like an apt choice. «Henry Moore: A Retrospective,» a thematically structured survey of Moore’s work jointly organized by the National Glyptotheque with the Henry Moore Foundation, and «Christos Capralos: A Tribute to Olympia – Sculpture in Wood,» which focuses on a section of the artist’s work (both exhibitions are Cultural Olympiad productions) can be seen independently but also reveal interesting juxtapositions when viewed as a whole. In contrast to Capralos, who was a great admirer of Greek classical art, Henry Moore inclined more toward pre-classical art. The art of the Cycladic and Archaic periods, were, along with non-Western art – of the Sumerians, the Mayans and the Aztecs – early Renaissance art and the art of his contemporaries (Arp, Picasso, Miro), part of a visual anthology that Moore drew his inspiration from. It was an anthology that he had built up through his visits to the British Museum, his reading and travels. For Moore, beauty in art in the traditional sense did not matter. His art rejected the classical concept of beauty – the ideal of symmetry or harmony – in favor of a sense of vital force and formal figure. «People have thought – the later Greeks, in the Hellenistic period – that the human figure was the only subject, that it ended there; a question of copying. But I believe it’s a question of metamorphosis,» he wrote. What mattered was essence rather than appearance, inner truth rather than mimesis. This is also one of the reasons that Moore kept the facial features of his figurative sculptures abstract. «When you observe a friend in the distance, you don’t recognize him by the color of his eyes… but by the effect made by his figure… the proportion and set of one mass to another,» he once said. Moore represented the world as relations between forms. Being the epitome of the modern artist, he paid special attention to the very properties of sculpture: form, mass and material. Blending the figurative with the abstract, Henry Moore’s sculptures epitomize modern art yet their sense of bodily equilibrium gives them a classical quality. This balance between the classical and the modern is the impression that the exhibition at the National Glyptotheque helps put across. The number of sculptures assembled here also make the viewer notice another strong aspects of Moore’s work: the alternation between concave and convex forms and the use of empty space – apertures or openings in a sculptural form – as an integral part of the sculpture itself. In Moore’s art, the void acquires a new value; it becomes form. This becomes evident in «Reclining Figures» – one of the various themes of the exhibition and a recurring theme in the work of Henry Moore. It is also apparent in the «Mother and Child» sculptures, a theme which Moore linked to the Madonna and Child iconography and referred to as one of his obsessions. In his figurative sculptures, Moore concentrated on the female form. His cycle of «Warriors» are the only instance in his work where the single male figure appears as a separate sculpture. Mostly represented as amputated figures carrying a shield, Moore’s warriors were a challenge: «The bony, edgy, tense forms were a great excitement to make,» wrote Moore. The idea for «Warriors» evolved in the early 1950s out of a pebble that the artist found on the seashore. Moore actually derived many of his ideas from natural forms. His fascination for different materials and textures led him to collect all sorts of organic materials, such as stones, pebbles and tree branches. Natural forms also provided him with a broad repertoire for his more abstract sculptures and the large, bronze sculptures at the National Glyptotheque capture Moore’s unceasing interest in nature, a world that he constantly observed and whose ceaseless transformations he wished to capture through the energy of his materials. Material was also important for Christos Capralos. Mostly known for his bronze sculptures which the artist made using the ancient lost-wax technique (the artist represented Greece at the 1962 Venice Biennale with his bronze sculptures, which were a huge success), Capralos discovered the beauty of wood (eucalyptus tree trunks) as a material for sculpture in 1965. He used wood for a big sculptural project intended as a tribute to Olympia and the ancient Temple of Zeus. His work is essentially a modernized, abstract adaptation of the temple’s pediment. Capralos’s sculptures are frequently about epic themes or universal, human values taken from history, particularly ancient Greek history. One of the most typical examples is «Monument of Pindos» from the mid-1940s, an epic narration of war and peace in the form of a 40-meter-long sculptural frieze. His wooden sculptures presented at the National Glyptotheque express Capralos’s admiration for Greek antiquity, not just its art but also its anthropocentric civilization. Man is the central figure in Capralos’s sculptures. To a certain extent, this is also true about Moore’s work. It is a link between two artists, who carried a humanist tradition into the modern age and expressed it with the abstract language of modern art. The Henry Moore retrospective and the Christos Capralos exhibition are on at the National Glyptotheque at Goudi off Katehaki. Metro station: Katehaki. Info: 210.770.9855. To October 31.

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