This piece was written in September 2011, just after the Henry Moore statue in Greenwich Park had been returned. For non-locals: Queen Caroline’s bath, the Ranger’s House and Queen Elizabeth’s Oak are all things in the park.
I feel such a fool.
Why? Because our Henry Moore is back. By which, of course, I mean Moore’s 1976 work Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, which last week returned to Greenwich Park after being ignominiously carted off to Wakefield four years ago.
So why am I feeling stupid, rather than celebratory? I’ll explain.
When we moved to Greenwich, I had no knowledge of the sculpture’s shady transplantation to the West Riding. Why would I? – it happened in 2007, and we’ve only been here a few months. What I did have, though, was a second-hand copy of Geoffrey Young’s Walking London’s Parks and Gardens, and one of the first things I’d done once we’d unpacked was follow his annotated trek across the royal turf. But while I thus soon knew all about the sunken bath up by Chesterfield Gate that Queen Caroline used to share with Ignatius Sancho, and the bitter sectarian rivalry between the Romano-Celtic Temple and the Glasgow Rangers House, and the Ancient Oak around which Henry VIII danced with Anne Boleyn and, um, Cardinal Wolsey and Hereward the Wake and Dick Turpin [memo to self: buy a new history book if you want people to take this blog seriously], I remained bewildered by Young’s description of the Henry Moore sculpture. For something that was supposed to be “dramatic”, it seemed a bit… I don’t know… unobtrusive. Here, see what you think:
But then, barely two weeks ago, as I stood gazing again at that simple concrete plinth, I had an epiphany: not only was Mr Young right, I realised, but what we had here was nothing less than the very apotheosis of Moore’s art.
Moore is, of course, often mocked as the man who does holes; much like Picasso is still ridiculed by philistines for painting women with their eyes all over the shop. But those of us who know about these things understand that, by puncturing his sculpted forms with apertures and cavities, and contrasting the solid elements not only with the space around them, but also the space within them, Moore is essentially interrogating the human condition itself. And what we had here, on this windswept grassy ridge, was – I now realised – the ultimate extension of that idea: the space, the penetrating void, had expanded until it had itself become the sculpture.
And I said as much to the French girl in the black skirt and beret who was standing beside it at the time.
“Ooh-la-la,” she gasped, “mon dieu!” And then, brushing a strand of soft auburn hair from her cheek whilst moodily lighting a Gauloise, she added: “Quel beau concept. Vous êtes vraiment très intellectuel, monsieur. Intellectuel et… chic.” And her eyes shone like two rain-soaked conkers caught in the first flare of sun when the clouds part after a storm.
I’m sure you can imagine how I felt. And will therefore understand why I chose to ignore the small boy up a nearby lamp post who, as we passed beneath, seemed to be muttering incredulously to himself “But there’s nothing there! It’s just an empty plinth!”
“After all,” I said to Eloise as we approached Crooms Hill Gate, “what do small boys up lamp posts know about Art and Love?”
But for some reason she seemed to have turned into a squirrel. It really was a most peculiar afternoon.
Oh well. At least she never found out what I fool I was.
And, looking on the bright side, we now have our ’Enery back. Indeed, as Anita Feldman from the Henry Moore Foundation said last week, speaking to Greenwich.co.uk: “It is wonderful to return the sculpture to the site Moore selected, particularly as it will be overlooking London during the Olympic Games. Moore once exhibited a version of this sculpture on a hillside overlooking the Acropolis in Athens – its upraised arm, arched back and tilted hip recall the triumphant gesture and humanism of the ancient Nike of Samonthrace.”
Which proves, I suppose, that I really do know nothing about modern art, as to me the thing that’s now on the plinth looks nothing like an old pair of trainers belonging to some Greek bloke.