This Living Hand: Henry Moore exhibition 'refreshes and renews our grasp on art in relation to our own wellbeing'
Bishop's Stortford College student Madeleine Friedlein visits Henry Moore Studios & Gardens at Perry Green to review its latest exhibition, 'This Living Hand: Edmund de Waal presents Henry Moore'.
"The pandemic has made touch difficult. We are out of touch with each other, anxious about our hands. We wash and wash and sanitise. The Living Hand was conceived before the world changed so dramatically. It now opens with a deeper resonance." EdW
Curated by Edmund de Waal, artist, master potter and author, this exhibition of Moore's work and personal collections encourages an important interaction with the sculptures and a celebration of touch after a period of separation.
The exhibition opens with a traditional Japanese stone basin, designed with bamboo and running water to wash your hands before entering.
Placed throughout the gallery spaces of the Sheep Field Barn are several newly-commissioned benches, carved from Hornton stone, called 'tacets', meaning rest.
In the largest room, the benches are placed among three spectacular sculptures: King and Queen, Mother and Child and Reclining Figure: Hand, all of which the visitor is allowed to touch, which felt counter-intuitive due to traditional rules about not touching art at exhibitions. However, the experience turned out to be exhilarating – the two smooth bronze sculptures contrasting the rough stalactite.
The second, smaller room on the ground floor contained de Waal's selection of Moore's works on paper. These included drawings in watercolour, charcoal, chalk, pencil and even ballpoint pen – a host of media exploring Moore's fascination with the human hand. My favourite work in this space was The Three Fates, its colours standing out amongst the predominantly monochrome tone of the room.
Finally, the first floor has a display of personal collection of objects that inspired Moore's work, things he liked to weigh and study as he sculpted. Some of the most intriguing items were the Roman Standing Figure (753 BC-1453 AD) and the Greco-Persian figure of a Lynx (400-200 BC), both of which resonated with the idea of interaction. Both forms were very tactile, inviting a link between the past and contemporary art.
So, why encourage touch in a world still heavily affected by a pandemic?
De Waal argues that "touch can give solace, but it can also reveal loss", suggesting the fundamentality of physical interaction in mental healing. In this way, after a period of challenges – both mental and physical – de Waal uses Moore's work to create a space for cleansing, healing and reflection. The exhibition, set at the heart of the beautiful surrounding sculpture gardens, does just this: it refreshes and renews our grasp on art in relation to our own wellbeing.
Like This Living Hand, other exhibitions nearby are exploring the theme of touch, such as the Fitzwilliam Museum's 'The Human Touch' in Cambridge. At a time when we hope things can soon return to normal, the emphasis on hands and touch couldn't be more important and uplifting.
"Moore gives us back the living hand: alive, moving, cadenced in a world of possibility and connection to others." EdW
* The exhibition continues at Perry Green until October 31, 2021. Madeleine Friedlein is a prize-winning creative writer studying for A-levels in English literature, classic civilisation and religious studies.