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EXHIBITION

REVIEW

Figuring Space: Sculpture/Furniture from Mies to Moore At the Henry Moore Institute, The Headrow, Leeds, until 1 April

When Berthold Lubetkin's Highpoint 2 was unveiled nearly 70 years ago, both traditionalists and proponents of the Modern Movement were shocked. The architect's use of casts of the caryatids from the Erectheion to support the porte-cochère seemed ippantly irreverent to the former, and a betrayal of the principles of functionalism to many of the latter. In the same year (1938) Henry Moore delivered his Recumbent Figure to Serge Chermayeff - it was to occupy a pivotal position in Chermayeff's new house, Bentley Wood, in Sussex.

Moore spoke of the impact of the sculpture on its context: 'It, so to speak, enjoyed being there, and I think it introduced a humanising element. It became a mediator between modern house and ageless land.'

Sculpture, like architecture, was the subject of fierce divisions between traditionalists and Modernists in the inter-war years, so the introduction of a straightforwardly representative figure, Morning, by Georg Kolbe, into Mies van der Rohe's 1929 Barcelona Pavilion might seem surprising.

In 'Figuring Space' there is a plaster cast of this sculpture.

As curator Penelope Curtis comments, its importance for Mies was not its traditionalism but 'the fact that it was a free art, an ideal art, which summarised and concentrated the viewer's architectural experience of the building'.

Working chiey with three sculptors - briey Kolbe, and, more extensively, Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Aristide Maillol - Mies developed this juxtaposition in a number of built and unbuilt projects; a work by Lehmbruck was placed in the Tugendhat House in a location prescribed by the architect.

The thesis of the show is that sculpture and the furniture that Mies, Le Corbusier, Aalto, Jacobsen and others designed perform a similar function in Modern buildings - all articulate space. Jacobsen's Egg chair is as much a sculpture as a functional object. More recently, buildings by Gehry, Hadid, Libeskind and others have assumed a sculptural form in which functionality seems a low priority and place-making a central concern. Both developments have their roots in technological change: the first in the availability of new materials such as moulded plywood, the second in the rise of computers as a design tool.

This exhibition raises important questions about the real nature of Modernism and its relationship to tradition, which was far more sympathetic than many of its ideologues claimed. It is worth a special visit for the series of superb Mies drawings loaned by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, a number of them never before exhibited. The central section of the show, in Dixon Jones' superb 'cube' gallery, is breathtaking in its economy: two Barcelona chairs, abstract symbols of authority, confront Moore's King and Queen (1952), a work at once immediately comprehensible and yet profoundly enigmatic.

Kenneth Powell is an architectural journalist

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