There was a lot happening in the world of sculpture in 1913. New and dynamic ways of thinking about what Art, and particularly sculpture, could be were being developed by Cubists, futurists and artists who kept to the old traditions of carving and used them to represent the human figure in new ways. Old ideas and assumptions about Art were being challenged as radically as they have ever been, before or since. Europe was changing and industrialising rapidly. It was also about to be torn apart by the Great War and nothing was certain. The small, carefully selected exhibition 1913 The Shape of Time at the Henry Moore Institute looks back at some of the work produced during that year and attempts to provide a snapshot of a moment in time and examine how it fed into the imaginations and the work of the artists who were living through it.
A number of the works on show are full of balance and movement. I really liked Alexander Archipenko’s The Dance which is a quite small, graceful sculpture of a dancing couple cast in bronze. It is very satisfying to walk around as your perspective on it changes. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s sculptoral plaque shows two wrestlers held in balance with each other, perfectly poised, and Modigliani’s simple and sinuous drawing of a caryatid slinks across the canvas staring out at you and seeming to challenge. I also liked Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné’s sculpture Rhythm, a large, flamboyant and colourful sculpture of a couple embracing made from flat pieces of wood which seems to vibrate with movement. In each of these very different pieces you get a feeling that movement has been freeze framed- something is about to happen. They are held in a state of tension. Time has been stopped.
Giorgio De Chirico’s painting The Tower is a looming dramatic image in deep rich tones of black, grey, brown and blue. It may be hindsight but when you look at it now you can’t help seeing the last remnants of something that seemed to be strong and unassailable but most certainly wasn’t. This is the old world and it is about to be destroyed.
Eric Gill’s Christ on the Cross is a calm,serene, stylised image which sits there on the wall as though it always will.
Picosso’s Bottle of VieuxMark, glass and newspaper and Ardengo Soffici’s Deconstruction of the Planes of a Lamp are both images which look at familiar mundane objects in a new way, blowing them apart and finding new planes and angles- perhaps drawn from the new industrialised world which was springing up around them.
This exhibition proves that there is nothing new about artist’s producing images and objects which challenge and shock and there is no isolating any artist from the times that they live in. The work here is still unsettling and fresh, even now.
A last thought. Marcel Duchamp’s piece Three Standard Stoppages completely defeated any attempt by me to understand it. Any help would be appreciated.
Please click on the links to see images of the work mentioned.