The art of Henry Moore is easy to admire, difficult to love.
The earthbound forms, the holes, the heads that have no faces - his sculptures have a signature we recognize at once. The recognition does not cheer. Instead it carries a premonition of exhaustion. Moore's works are encased in familiarity.
To really see them we must burrow through their sameness. You must work to see a Moore. That labor breeds respect but does not spark delight. No wonder that we hear less ecstasy than duty in the applause that now rains on him as he starts his ninth decade.
Moore deserves his towering reputation. He has long been influential, he remains inventive. He is dogged in his labors. His works grow even larger. Unlike other men as famous. Dali for example. Moore in his old age has not trivialized his art.
Moore's largest and, perhaps most intimidating sculpture, "Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece," guards the major entrance of the new East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Now, to celebrate the artist's 80th birthday, 75 other works, sculptures large and small, etchings, lithographs and drawings, have been placed on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden just across the Mall.
All of these are drawn from the Hirshhorn's own collection. No museum in America owns more works by Moore.
Forty years ago Moore's un-Greek statues startled, but 10,000 imitations and the fashions of the '50s (the cars, the kidney swimming pools) have cut into their newsness. He has always worked with traditional materials - wood and plaster, bronze and stone.
Moore continues to insist his works "are not abstractions." He says that all of them are based on the human figure." Then why is it that this statues dampen our affections, hold us at a distance? What is that chill that pervades the Hirshhorn show?
It is a kind of absence. Moore has forced the figure out of humankind into the realm of landscape.
Though he has long shown us females, reclining, mothers with their children, families and kings, his figures are not people. The viewer who approaches the Moores at the Hirshhorn as if they were human, or even superhuman, finds his empathy repelled.
Moore's sculptures have no faces, though sometimes they wear masks. They are never individuals. The life they have is landscape-life. The spirits that inhabit them are related to the spirits of mountains, rocks and bones.
Even in the blitz, when England was united, when hope was at a premium and comradeship was palpable, Moore drew his fellow Londoners sleeping in the underground as if their huddled bodies were as ageless as rows of rounded hills.
Most of Moore's conventions - the boneless flesh, the holes that we look into, the walls behind his figures - force the eye toward vistas, make us peer beyond.
Asked not long ago to list artists he admired, Moore said, "I'll give you the 10 greatest," but then came up with six - Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Masaccio, Raphael, Titian and Grunewald. "It is not that any one of them deserves to be included because he is the best colorist, or another the best designer, or some such. That's a tedious and mechanical kind of choice . . . The artists I named were all humanists of the first magnitude . That is all I care for in a great artist, but it is everything."
It is odd to hear him say that Moore is not a humanist. He has more in common with the poets who loved mountains, the English landscape painters and the Druids of old Britain who worshipped groves of oaks. "Sculpture - all sculpture - " Moore insists, "is based on the human figure." But his figures are not human. In them he pays homage to something beyond man. The Hirshhorn's Moore exhibit closes Sept. 22.
Expressionism is a term of exasperating vagueness. It has been used so often to label artists as diverse as Barnett Newman and Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee and Willem de Kooning that it now means next to nothing. We are, however, stuck with it particularly when speaking of the German artists who pledged themselves to modernism (another fuzzy word) before World War I.
Like the Fauves, their French contemporaries, the Dresden artists of Die Brucke (The Bridge) opposed the academics, preferred emotion to analysis, muscle to Finesse. Kirchner, Schmidt-Rotluff, Nolde, Pechstein, Muller and Heckel painted, it seems a surprising number of garish, ugly pictures. One sees them at their best, or at least at their most palatable, not in their paintings but their prints.
"German Expressionist Prints," at the International Monetary Fund, 19th and G Streets NW, an exhibit arranged by the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. Stuttgart, is the best exhibit of their graphics this city has yet seen.
Of the 119 works on view, most are black and white - a factor in their favor, since the colors of their oils often clash and curdle. There are 16 artists represented, not only those from Dresden, but also Paul Klee and Franz Marc, Dix, Feininger, and Grosz, Beckmann, Kokoschkla and Kandinsky. Despite the differences between them - Grosz is savage, Marc is sweet, Beckmann was a portraitist, Kandinsky made abstractions - something passionate and headlong, fearless and dramatic unifies the show. I never thought I would see a German Expressionist exhibit that I would class as beautiful, but this one does come close. Visitors are asked to sign in at the desk for this museum-quality exhibit, which will remain on view through Aug. 25.
For the city's commercial galleries, August is the dullest month. While planning for next season, many galleries are closed, those that remain open have group shows on view.
To spice things up a bit, a dozen local galleries, most of them on P Street - Aaron, Diane Brown, Rebecca Cooper, Victoria Fortune, Foundry, Haslem, Hom, Gallery K, Protetch/McIntosh, Pyramid, Touchstone and Wade will hold - on Aug. 8 and 9 - a so-called silent auction. Admission to all 12 will cost visitors $3, the monies, raised thereby to benefit the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The dealers promise bargains.
The Franz Bader Gallery, 2124 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, is showing the "Masks and Spirits" of Washington's Ulysses Marshall. If the black artists of this city who rely less on European than African motifs can be said to form a "movement," Marshall is a member. His exhibit includes works on paper, quickly made, of masked and moving dancers, as well as a number of masks that seem to have been made (of pipe cleaners, lace, burlap, yarn, bright paint and twine) for the wall rather than wearing. Though his masks seem rather static, Marshall's drawings show abandon; his lines sweep and move. His exhibition closes on Aug. 19.