This time students at Columbia University have gotten it right. More than 1,200 of them have signed a petition protesting the proposed installation of Henry Moore’s modernist sculpture Reclining Figure (1969-70) in front of the university’s elegantly neo-classical Butler Library.
According to Roberto Ferrari—the curator at Columbia’s art and architecture library, who announced the forthcoming installation—the piece was “meant to suggest the form of a woman with her legs outstretched before her, propping herself up with her forearm.” But who would guess that without (or even with) the work’s title? A more apt reading is the one offered in a Columbia Spectator op-ed by three undergraduates and a recent Columbia College alumnus. They likened the work to “a dying mantis or a poorly formed pterodactyl,” further noting that it is “so repulsive that when thieves stole Moore’s original cast, valued at £3 million, they literally chopped it up and sold it for scrap” (as reported in The Guardian).
None of the op-ed writers, I might add, are art students—which may help to explain their frankly irreverent response to a work by “one of the most influential and celebrated British artists of the 20th century,” to quote the New York Times. Art students, no doubt, would have been cowed by Moore’s exalted reputation.
As further noted by the Times, Moore’s sculptures are “on public display in parks and plazas around the world” and “reside in major museums.” Indeed. As I note in Who Says That’s Art?, however, I have never once observed a passerby actually looking at the Reclining Figure by Moore that is prominently installed in Lincoln Center Plaza, for example.
So perhaps it’s high time to reassess Moore’s exalted reputation.