Henry Moore and the Challenge of Architecture At the Kunsthal, Rotterdam, until 28 January The Austrian author Robert Musil, whose novel The Man Without Qualities vividly depicts the suffocating world from which Modernism emerged last century, wrote: 'There is nothing as invisible as a monument. Every day you have to walk around them, or use their pedestal as a haven of rest. . . but you never look at them.' Musil was thinking of statues of civic or national dignitaries, but the same goes for many sculptures by Henry Moore: former must-haves now stranded unseen in countless plazas and forecourts.
Even on the hillside of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park they're easy to pass by, and it's hard to recall that Moore was once thought avant-garde - a member of Modernist group Unit One along with Isokonarchitect Wells Coates.
So does an encounter with Moore's work outside its usual settings make it visible again?
That's one of the questions which this exhibition in Rem Koolhaas' Kunsthal raises: a version of a show - rst seen at Moore's Perry Green studio, which acquires extra resonance now because Rotterdam's Bouwcentrum is the site of his 8.4 x 19m Wall Relief, made unusually (for him) of brick.
For Moore, says the show's title, architecture was 'a challenge' - but it was also a mixture of ambivalence, dissatisfaction, pragmatism and persistence. Rehearsing the now familar argument that sculpture is usually an add-on, not integral, Moore initially resisted his first architectural commission: figures for Charles Holden's LT headquarters in 1928. Though unhappy with the eventual results (not threedimensional enough), Moore accepted another job for Holden at Senate House, but abandoned it midway.
A project for Lubetkin's Highpoint II penthouse foundered when artist and architect disagreed over the sculpture's placement. When Moore completed his screen for Rosenauer's Time/Life Building on Bond Street, he thought that the four forms it contained should have been freestanding and the screen ditched. After agonising for ages about his piece for Breuer's UNESCO building in Paris, and then opting (no great surprise) for a reclining figure, he argued with the architect about the sculpture's size; Breuer wanted it bigger. Eventually the work was made as Moore had wished but he later conceded that Breuer was right. So it was hardly plain sailing, yet Moore couldn't let architecture go.
These schemes and more are presented in depth in the main hall of the Kunsthal, with a mixture of drawings, archive photos, maquettes and sculptures - the latter benefiting from natural light coming both from above and through the glazed south wall.
Moore once wrote that he was 'not a purely abstract artist. . . I have three or four unending themes and the basis of all my work is the human figure.' This show is not of such a size that the question of repetition - of whether Moore brought sufficient psychological insight or formal invention in reprising those themes - really arises; some works, though, are more allusive than others. The different stones that vivified Moore's sculptures, especially his earlier ones, are missing; almost everything here is bronze, if variously finished.
There are some memorable drawings, with - gures poised or recumbent in De Chiricolike piazzas, which have a poetry that doesn't always transfer into three dimensions.
Perhaps most interesting is the big Rotterdam Wall Relief, though it doesn't quite succeed as a composition. Moore clearly didn't want the geometrical motifs to be just a border round the swelling brick biomorphs, but the latter aren't integrated into the whole. Seen close to, however, there are many shallow-relief subtleties in the the brickwork, which sunlight reveals, but as the wall faces north these are usually lost.
Letters between Moore and the Bouwcentrum's architect, J W C Boks, are illuminating.
'My accountant has suggested that it might be best (because of my high return for income tax this year) to leave the money due to me in a Dutch bank account, ' writes Moore the pragmatist. He was often pragmatic too in his attitude to 'collaboration' with architects, not aiming to produce 'sitespecific' work but inviting them just to enlarge their maquette of choice (as I M Pei, for instance, did).
So not quite Richard Serra, then, with his insistence on the site specific, his truculence and his budgets. But the problems Moore wrestled with haven't gone away, as both the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments make clear, and contemplating his work beneath the sawtooth lights of the Kunsthal, one can see those problems anew.