Locking Piece. Henry Moore. Tate Gallery, London.
Click for 4 reference photos.
(Photos at the linked site by Mary Ann Sullivan, Digital Art Imagining Project.)
1. Description. "Locking Piece" is cast bronze, about 6 ft. high / 6 ft. wide / 6 ft. deep. It is in two parts, an upper which is locked into a lower. The piece is cut by a central hollow. The bronze surface is bronze gold, with black patches. The piece is difficult to describe verbally; the clearest analogy is to see it as a portion of a hip/thigh socket/thigh, all twisted or formed into a double-U shape. Hence:
2. Setting. The piece is mounted on a concrete pedestal about 7 ft. high, which is set in a fountain that sprays water from all sides onto the pedestal. The fountain itself is set into a terraced concrete plaza. Hence:
It is not clear that the setting was designed by Moore or its basic design even suggested by Moore.
The terrace fountain setting is in a small park beside the Thames, with a motorway on one side and the river retaining wall on the other.
The Moore piece is the focal point of the park design.
3. Structural Composition. The basic structure of the piece is composed around two U's, one on top of the other, with the upper U inverted, hinged on one leg so as to appear to provide a pivot, with the other inverted leg able to slide off the lower U.
This sliding motion is however prevented because the pivot is not a free pivot, much like a human joint whereby a leg can move in one direction but not out of the joint or in most directions.
The simple design is fundamentally tense - depending on which view of the sculpture one has. From one side (southwest), there is suggested tension; from the opposite, no tension. The lock is secure and doesn't intimate any possible of motion.
4. Surface technique. Reflective bronze (gold) with acid treatment to produce non-reflective black. Surface not smooth, but has plaster-carving tool marks on S.W. side and gouges on N.E. side.
5. Space. There is no duality of space (such as inner/outer, etc.); space is defined as open to action, for the piece has extended (although terminated) limbs which move outward. Space is a theatre, a setting for action, for tension.
6. Mass. The piece exhibits mass as forces working against gravity and inertia. The forces are internal, rather than external. Mass is therefore presented as the resistance to effort, as in a static equilibrium, as when holding a weight at arm's length. The mass is not perceived as an object separate from the arm or effort of holding up the object; mass is felt as effort and the continuum of effort.
The effect of gravity is exhibited in the swinging tension of the upper U. The free leg shares a diagonal or slipping surface with the lower bar of the U and is pulled off in a downward motion. Hence:
(It is this downward swivel that is resisted by the lock.)
7. Emotive quality. This piece is not emotional in the sense of enticing the viewer's empathy or sympathy. It is not emotionally thematic. At the same time, it is not unrelated to emotion, for it is intended to be felt - the form of the sculpture cannot be wholly perceived visually alone, but the tension must e felt also at the same time.
The derivation of the composition from the pelvic/leg-joint skeletal structure is not intended to evoke specially human references [e.g., sexual congress between man and woman involving locking legs]. Moore has carefully abstracted from the human structure. Rather, Moore is saying something basic about natural or organic composition in which every stationary design is movement, or force or effort toward movement, resisted by constraint. Similarly every conscious movement of recognition is arrested or locked movement.
The unity of design which allows Moore to call the sculpture "locking piece", rather than "locking pieces", is derived fro m the concept of unity of separates joined by contrary forces (a very Newtonian universe).
In this way, the unity of the human body is created - not especially by a unitary skin covering - but by the working together of parts that oppose one another.
[Later thought. Moore's lock reminds me of the locking key that a sculptor uses to register two halves of a mold. The sculptor sculpts a figure (say, a clay model of a female form). Then, he divides the figure into molding zones, by creating a thin fence of metal shims, that will divide different halves of the mold. The sections of the mold are given a perfect registration by creating a lock or key - simply a sharp V - in the metal shim fence. When the halves of the molds are later put together, they will slide into place with each other against the key. In this way, a figure is created by locking the sections of a mold together. This technique adds to the humanistic meaning of Moore's piece.]
8. Thematic composition. Not a thematic [narrative] sculpture.
9. Exhibition technique. The sculpture is well exhibited. The site allows for convenient viewing from all directions. The raised position provides a good view into the interior of the sculpture, a view that would be derived from a lower position because the grooves do not cut through to the top of the piece. All in all, the best qualities of the piece are exhibited.
The fountain calls for comment. The question is whether the water in the fountain is related to the sculpture. To the extent that the water invites repose, it probably contradicts the concept of the sculpture. To the extent that the water suggests the basic qualities of life [and female principles?], it is in harmony with the piece. If the piece is perceived in terms of a pelvic structure, and if the groves are thereby perceived in terms of the birth canal, then perhaps the water in the fountain relates to the birth water; in which case, the piece is to be interpreted as female. This, however, may be far-fetched.
Also, the fountain cleverly ties the sculpture to its site, which is a river park.
(The fountain has the incidental benefit of keeping viewers far enough away from the pedestal to prevent them from painting graffiti on it.)