‘A sincere academic modern’: Clement Greenberg on Henry Moore
Courtney J. Martin
Clement Greenberg 1956
Moore in New York
Sweeney was an avid sculpture collector and in the early 1940s he acquired two of Moore’s watercolours, Mother and Child 1940 and Reclining Figures Against A Bank 1942 (sculptures by Moore were hard to come by during the war years because of the difficulties of transporting works across the sea). Both works were illustrated in the 1944 volume, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, which was introduced by the English critic Herbert Read and published by Moore’s American dealer Curt Valentin.11 Director of the museum’s department of painting and sculpture from 1945, Sweeney proposed a major retrospective of Moore’s work for the autumn of 1946. Although he was no longer in post when the exhibition opened, he selected the show and wrote the catalogue’s only essay. 12 In a letter to a colleague, his successor Monroe Wheeler noted that, ‘In selecting the Henry Moore exhibition, Jim Sweeney worked for the most part from the Herbert Read book’, as the best available source of images and information on the artist.13 Echoing Read’s text, Sweeney eulogised Moore in his catalogue essay. ‘Moore is still the one important figure in contemporary English sculpture’, he claimed, and ‘has taken his place in the international forefront as well.’ ‘As an artist Moore has the courage, the craftsmanship and talent that match his personal sympathy, humility and integrity. And in spite of the maturity and individuality of his early production, Moore has grown in statue as a creative artist with every completed major work’.14 Heavily dependent upon the artist’s own concepts (and thus, by extension, those of the artist’s chief champion, Herbert Read), Sweeney’s essay was laced with numerous passages from Moore’s published statements. Describing the sculptor’s methods as neither ‘arbitrary’ nor ‘stiffly intellectual’, Sweeney cited Moore’s own clear and simple formulation of how his ideas and imagination came together in his works:
17 The show used Moore’s sculptural processes and materials, as an organising principle (figs.3–5). Framed drawings were hung near related three-dimensional works or, underscoring their importance within his practice, separately. Curtains divided the large galleries into multiple intimate spaces and theatrical lighting brought out the drama of some of Moore’s larger sculptures. Sweeney’s curatorial choices educated the American audience about Moore through what was a comprehensive survey of the artist’s development and subjects. For most visitors the exhibition proved Moore’s worthiness of the honour of a solo exhibition at the museum. For Greenberg the show’s popularity signaled a failure, presenting a sanitized version of modernism in which the avant-garde was represented by a congenial craftsman.
How to cite
Courtney J. Martin, ‘‘A sincere academic modern’: Clement Greenberg on Henry Moore’, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www