On September 23, 1943, Henry Moore revisited an air raid shelter in the London Underground and reenacted the death-defying role he had played there three years earlier, during the battle of Britain. This time, however, he stood without a pencil in his hand, and a movie crew was on the scene to establish its own ever-changing record. For that sculpture without stone, the sculptor and his models had changed into spectators of one another, living on in time after the timeless art was finished.
Somewhere aboveground, simultaneously, a white apron had draped itself over a woman’s round body. We don’t know who the woman was, or just where. The same history that confidently told Henry Moore “Alight here” places her only in a parenthesis named “(vicinity).” But next to her in (vicinity) there once did stand the flattened forms of another woman and a dog. Coursing and smiling but unbreathing, those are works of dead art.
We see the woman in white in a different way. She whom the drape conceals from our sight was capable of the adventitious. Only she could have violated art by dropping a burning cigarette into weedy space.
It has remained. Wherever (vicinity) is, a chair still awaits its white-aproned woman, rocking a little in the air pushed ahead of her arrival.
Aslant on a tilted surface, a ship’s steel curves align themselves into a complex array of near-verticals and are changed from a simple prow into a Richard Serra multiform. Emitting excited puffs of steam as they prepare to nuzzle the new shape, the ship’s companion tugs bustle into line as merrily as if they were executing poses for the jovial approval of Raoul Dufy. As in the sunny vacationland France of a Chelsea gallery, all here in New York harbor is innocence, luxe, and the thoughtfully capitalized beauty of gaits trained by dance. The big ship and her brood of little boats seem to have prepped for their appearance before the camera in a boutique full of Lartigues.
There, after the primpers undercoated the sky with pink and the water with blue, they finished off the big ship’s funnels with a dramatic application of buff.
A hundred years ago, that tint at the source of cloud was a form that hope had chosen for an emblem. Buff cylinders multiplied over water were the insigne of the Hamburg-America Line, the most important transport link between Europe and the United States for the desperate Jews of Russia during the last years of the czars. Imagine you can hope now in the way they hoped then. In the mind’s eye, see a yellow glow travel from right to left across the ocean. See it take on readable form as water and sky unscroll before it.
When the ship with bright funnels comes into its haven, its passengers will disembark into the boutique’s chosen range of the spectrum and commence a different way of being seen.
The immigration image is at Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jewish_immigration_Russia_United_States_1901.jpg. The information there transcribes the copyright date in the lower right corner as 1901, but I read it as 1909 or possibly 1902. A fashion historian might be able to date the clothing. The Hebrew text carried by the American eagle is found in several Jewish prayers. Adapted from Psalm 17.8, it reads, “And hide us in the shadow of thy wings.”
All three images have been Photoshopped for contrast and tone.
you can find an illustrated article about his oeuvre. The man is every bit as good at being an artist as he was at being a proconsul. But he’s confident enough nevertheless to bring his work before the public.
Here, in front of the cathedral in Padua, is the first Renaissance equestrian statue, Donatello’s image of the condottiere Gattamelata. In their own right, the armored image and the cathedral come to us massively, in the final rightness that history bestows on its darlings. But click the photograph anyway if you wish to enlarge it.
Sometimes confidence does bring forth works with the power to outlive. For them, “outlive” is an intransitive verb. It survives their makers, burning away all the evil of their beginning. They can kill, but the deaths they impose aren’t just blundering Bremerian Fingerfehler. We love them for the reason Rilke loved his angels: because they serenely disdain to destroy us.