Bronze Bodies, Not the Olympic Kind, Impress in London

"Olympic Rings" (1985), a painting and silkscreen on canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Warhol suggested the Olympic motif and Basquiat added the graffiti-style mask. Photographer: Mike Bruce/Gagosian Gallery via Bloomberg

Now is a good time to be thinking about the human body. It’s on display, in peak form, at all the London Olympic venues, and in rather less standard configurations at a trio of sculptural exhibitions.

Elsewhere, there’s evidence that in lieu of Brillo boxes and dollar bills Andy Warhol once played around with those Olympic rings.

Let’s start with “Henry Moore: Late Large Forms” at the Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia St., WC1 (until Aug. 18).

Moore is a surprising choice for a major contemporary art gallery in an Olympic summer. True, he was a master of 20th-century British art. But his reputation has been in gentle decline since his death in 1986. “Picasso and Modern British Art” at Tate Britain earlier this year suggested he had trailed well behind the brilliant Spaniard.

Unexpectedly, this Gagosian show succeeds where that exhibition failed: It makes Moore look important and original. It does so, essentially, because in sculpture size makes a difference. On display are some of Moore’s grandest bronzes, above all the colossal “Large Two Forms” from 1966.

Towering Scale

Here’s something Moore did that Picasso didn’t: explore sculpture on a huge scale. Like more recent sculptural masterpieces such as Richard Serra’s “Torqued Ellipses,” it’s large enough to walk through. The forms tower over you.

There are also some trademark reclining figures on view, though this piece makes the case for Moore, and suggests that -- again unexpectedly -- his most important work came late.

While Moore liked to compare the human form with natural shapes such as bones and hills, in “Still Standing” at White Cube, Hoxton Square, N1 (through Sept. 15), Antony Gormley is more interested in comparisons between bodies and buildings.

These 18 sculptures -- 17 downstairs, one up -- offer variations on the theme of analyzing a person into a stack of cast-iron cubes and oblongs, as if built out of children’s toy bricks. Last year, some were on show at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, next to a group of Greek and Roman statues.

The Athenians occasionally substituted sculpted maidens for columns; Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo both believed that human proportions should be the basis for building. So too did the arch-modernist Le Corbusier.

Gormley’s iron men can sometimes seem repetitive, yet these work a subtle and quirky variation on a classical theme.

Quirky Faces

A more outrageous redesign of homo sapiens is on display on the grounds of Dulwich Picture Gallery.

“The Four Seasons” by Philip Haas (through Sept. 16) are 15-foot (4.6 meter) fiberglass heads based on the paintings of the 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who specialized in assembling recognizably human faces out of incongruous items. His “Winter” is made up of dry wood, evergreen leaves and fungi, “Spring” out of flowers, etc.

Haas has taken the idea further by visualizing what these fantastic physiognomies might look like in three dimensions, and hugely magnified. The ebullient results suggest the Renaissance as re-imagined by Jeff Koons, with a hint of Disney.

Inside the Dulwich Gallery there’s an exhibition of Warhol’s print portfolios (also through Sept. 16).

A more timely fragment of Warholiana is “Olympic Rings” at another Gagosian Gallery, 17-19 Davies St., W1 (until Aug. 11). It consists of one large collaborative picture, in which Warhol riffed on the celebrated symbol and Jean-Michel Basquiat contributed a black mask.

Also on display are photographs of the two men in the guise of boxers. Warhol makes a wonderfully improbable athlete.


The Warhol/Basquiat is for sale, with prices on application.

(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Lewis Lapham on history.

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