This constellation forges connections between modern and contemporary works concerned with a sculptural relationship to the artist’s body and to the natural world, revealing a pathway that links geometric abstraction with the surrealist ability to recognise human shapes in natural forms. The phased development of Single Form (Eikon), as it moved through versions in plaster and wood to its final metal incarnation nearly 30 years later, raises questions about the role of sculpture and the importance of materials – concerns that are echoed in the works of Naum Gabo, Marisa Merz and Max Ernst. Louise Bourgeois’ printmaking suite presents a dark vision of biomorphic assimilation and amputation, while the strength and stability of Hepworth’s direct carving method is echoed on an intimate scale by Merz’s knitted nylon works, whose delicate appearance belies their tough industrial materials.
The geometric abstraction of Hepworth’s monolithic bronze highlights her association with the constructive art championed by Gabo in 1936, which focused on the universal nature of pure forms. She also had connections to the surrealist movement. With its phallic quality and contrasting purified aesthetic, the cast bronze sculpture can relate to both of these important movements; like other works in the constellation powerfully oscillating between abstraction and figuration.
In a strong statement on her own artistic philosophy, Hepworth proclaimed: ‘I think every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ram rod and stare at it, with a sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it, touch it and walk away from it.’ This invitation to engage in a bodily experience of sculpture shares its premise with Bruce Nauman’s cast plaster and fibreglass work, Isa Genzken’s totemic concrete monuments, and Daria Martin’s film In the Palace, which dramatically enlarges to architectural scale an iconic Giacometti sculpture, enabling performers to inhabit its time and space, in an uncanny fusing of materials and people.