He was a small and compact man, hard-muscled and plain-spoken. His finest public sculptures are powerful, totemic, warmly monumental. The artist Henry Moore -- who died at 88 in 1986 -- eventually became a sort of monument himself. He was cherished by his countrymen. They approved his Yorkshire modesty (he would not accept a knighthood -- "I prefer plain Mr. Moore," he said). They loved his love of England (Moore was gassed in the Great War and bombed out in the Blitz). That this patriotic yeoman was regarded as a master pleased them most of all.
Moore was once described by Kenneth Clark as "by common consent, the outstanding creative force of the present day." Hilton Kramer recently ranked Moore among the big three with Picasso and Matisse. England has its actors, its writers and the Beatles, but save for Moore it's not done much for official modern art.
That may be the chief reason he's been so overpraised.
He found his style early and it did not much grow or change. His most inventive moves -- the way he hollowed out the figure and made the human body seem as timeless as the landscape -- once seemed rather daring, but do not seem so now. Thirty-one late Moores -- lithographs and etchings and a trio of small bronzes -- are on view at Robert Brown Contemporary Art, 1005 New Hampshire Ave. NW. If you still regard the sculptor as a mighty master, go and see this show.
Moore had no gift for color, and only modest skill with line, and his monumental women don't look monumental when you see them in a print hanging on the wall. His best, most weighty sculptures have great psychic presence, and one longs to feel the heft of even his small bronzes, but his graphics seem, in contrast, oddly paltry things.
Shakespeare, Dickens, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Benny Hill, like Alec Guinness and Olivier, conjure individuals. Moore doesn't. The gods in his "Six Heads, Olympians" (1982) might as well be washerwomen. His big-kneed, thick-thighed figures have pinheads on their necks if they have heads at all.
Moore's best drawings are of hills or trees, or of grazing sheep (he understands their woolliness and the blankness in their eyes). But there is something rote about his figures. Those seen in his graphics are clearly Henry Moores -- his style is his signature -- but they are minor works of art. They'll be at Brown's through Nov. 28.
Willem de Looper at Kornblatt
Willem de Looper, who has just retired as the Phillips Collection's chief curator, is showing "Paintings From the Seventies" at the B R Kornblatt Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW. They've aged well. They are modest in their colors, calm in composition, and they nicely hold the wall. From their horizontal bands one might describe them as stripe paintings, but de Looper never cared much for the rigors and taped edges of the Washington Color School. In each of these kind paintings one feels a sort of searching, a kind of mental strolling, and the active -- but anagressive -- movements of his brush.
"The paintings of the early seventies are often incorrectly associated with landscapes," writes Ray Kass in the brochure. They are by me. Their colors aren't electric, they suggest, at least to me, the mists and clouds and fresh-plowed earth, and the sky-reflecting puddles of de Looper's native Holland. De Looper's subtle colors -- stained and brushed and splattered, and often layered -- don't just sit there on the surface. They hint at fields and at skies.
De Looper has been making abstract pictures here since the 1950s. His newest works employ more startling hues and the sort of rising rectangles one associates with Robert Motherwell. De Looper has long been a sort of wanderer. He should have a retrospective that would start at the beginning and take us to the present, and let us stroll along. Kornblatt's exhibition is but one chapter in that journey. It closes Dec. 2.
Italo Scanga at Middendorf
Italo Scanga, of Calabria, then Pennsylvania, and now of southern California, has had numerous shows in Washington. His current show at Middendorf's, 2009 Columbia Rd. NW, like his four at Henri's (in 1971, 1975, 1978 and 1984), is a special sort of treat. His art is heartfelt, deeply personal, never quite decipherable, yet free and entertaining. It has always had about it something sacramental, some sense of honored images encountered in a roadside shrine -- or a museum -- a jungle or a church.
Two sorts of beings inhabit his present exhibition. Some are gangly painted figures made of painted sticks and branches. Most, like the saints of Italy, hold the props that are their attributes, tin funnels, blocky houses, or a sort of landscaped moon. A delightful dog of sticks appears in one such sculpture: It barks "pax, pax, pax, pax," as if to break one's peace.
The other beings on view are semi-cubist creatures, brightly colored and voracious. They've gobbled up all sorts of things -- goblets, for example, and mandolins and violins, wooden shoes and wooden grapes. Their colors aren't cubist grays of Braque and Picasso, nor the primaries of Leger, but brash La Jolla sun-hot hues -- reds, purples and bright blues. Scanga's big objects are creatures of the middle realm, they're both paintings and sculptures, they're part ingratiating, part intimidating, they're part totem and part toy. They'll be on view through Nov. 5.
Middendorf's also is showing recent prints of photographs made on New York's streets by the young Godfrey Frankel (then a student at Columbia) in the late 1940s. In those days you could still find a parking space underneath the el. Thirty cents would buy you a bowl of lamb stew and a cup of coffee. And it was easy to acquire -- or get rid of -- a tattoo. Frankel's pictures owe something to Walker Evans, and to the documentarians of the Farm Security Administration, but they have a special sweetness all their own. It is clear that they were made by a young man with a crush on the streets of the big city.