Do you like Henry Moore? Do you like Helmets? Do you like Heads? If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you would struggle to do better than the current exhibition at the Wallace Collection. It is on until 23rd June I would recommend you go. It is quite a small show so if you find yourself caught in a bout of tedious shopping in Oxford circus you can always escape to the quite of Manchester Square and go see this. The exhibition is centred, as the name would suggest around a number of bronze Helmet Heads that Henry Moore produced. It is housed in the Wallace collection basement exhibition space, below their atrium tea rooms.
Not only the helmet heads though, and some of the helmet heads like this one above left are much more yonic in there feel, a gestating something in side a womb like space. Some of it reminded me of H.R Giger but much less aggressive. I wonder if Moore was one of his influences.
In addition to this there are a number of other small works on display, some of them properly tiny. I really liked these two harp like constructions (above left). It shows one of the other revelations of this show the different textures, sheens and colours you can coax out of bronze. This like Barbara Hepworth's work (who uses the string trick to great effect also) really appeals to me. Your eyes travel up and across the strings.
However the central theme of this exhibition is the inspiration that Moore took from actual Helmets in coming to his final designs. There is convincing evidence that Moore came to the Wallace Collection and literally drew from their considerable accumulation of European armour. What this allows the curators to do is show an actual Helmet from their collection (above left), Moore's preparatory sketches (above centre) and then the final finished Head (above right). It is a smart decision and gives the exhibition an extra dimension. You get some history with your culture and get to see the genesis of an artistic idea.
They do this several times and the comparison is made early and explicitly in one of the first exhibits you come across (above left). Of course apart from the shape, this slighted twisted shape with upwards looking eye holds, the tone of the bronze what adds most of the time to these Helmet Heads is an internal shape, like an abstract spice. Sometimes they are separate and sometime they are integral. They provide more personality than the actual helmets.
Others are more explicitly helmet like (above right), a modernist all encompassing head covering. This is a good example of different bronze. One (left) is dark, while the other (right) is bright and shining.
The first main room though contains things other than Helmet Heads as intimated previously. There is a large over human size plaster statue, that looks like a large version of this odd cocoon like structure that you can see above right. You can see the forms here that develop and morph into the Helmet heads. And then a very shiny bronze sculpture which has resonances of some of the internal structures. Again marvel at the different finishes bronze can achieve.
They are surprisingly complex often using multiple media and show what a good draftsman Moore was. Some of them are just riffs on a motifs like the mummy like structures over a coloured washed background above left). Others are more polished renditions of what Moore envisaged as the final structure and make for excellent pieces of art in themselves (above right).
The show then opens up and ends on a collection of all the Helmet Heads arranged together (above). You can just about see from this photo some of different finishes, in both the external and internal pieces. This central placing of the podiums allows you to circle the sculptures and admire them from all angels. This is one major advantage that sculpture has over painting, it allows for different view points. You can never see the whole thing, only different aspects of it. Smart curators (and the Wallace Collection curators are smart) take full advantage of this.
It is an excellent show. it is a happy and uplifting show. I enjoyed it very much and I think you would too. I will leave you thought with a picture of what I think is my favourite piece from the show. He (I project onto it as a he) is a cheeky little chappy and I've glad I met him. Until next week then....
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.