Thursday, 26 September 2013

Moore vs Bacon?

Almost by its nature, sculpture in bronze or stone has to sit, stand or lie in a grounded space, whereas painted figures can fly or float in their flat plane; hence, I suppose, Francis Bacon's use of visual grids and plinths anchoring his writhing figures in an architectural illusion that powerfully conveys a physical entity, such as Henry Moore's reclining or standing forms possess intrinsically.

Some critics have seen this as a contest  - which is top dog or best in the modern British art show - which speaks eloquently of current attitudes to art - inherited, it is true, from the Renaissance ranking of painters and sculptors into  a pantheon of good, better, best.   But visual interest is more important than grading, and the Moore-Bacon [must be a better pun there] exhibition at the Ashmolean delivers this by judicious juxtaposition of pictures and sculptures that 'speak' or rather gesture to each other in a fairly spacious space.  It is partly the common deployment of truncated, amputated, barely recognisable human bodies, often contorted, angry and mobile in Bacon's oils,  static and impassive in Moore's bronzes.  Alongside these the learned curators have hung some of the museum's great master muscle studies by Michelangelo, of comparably partial limbs and torsos, thereby paying compliments to Bacon and Moore.

Not all are mutilated figures - there is a stimulating mix of forms, shapes, colour and patination. Another good thing about the exhibition is that there is neither too much nor too little - enough to satisfy eye and mind, not overstuff either.


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