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Exhibition A juxtaposition that reveals two Intriguing kindred spirits

Bill Brandt/Henry Moore
Sainsbury Centre
University of East Anglia, Norwich

THE photographer Bill Brandt and the sculptor Henry Moore are two of the giants of 20th century British art. In their very different ways they captured the artistic and social changes that transformed Britain largely as the result of experiencing two world wars.

This major exhibition traces their parallel and intersecting careers. The two artists first crossed paths during the Second World War, when they were tasked with creating images of civilians sheltering in the London Underground during the Blitz.

This exhibition brings together almost 200 works of the two men, including significant sculpture, photographs and drawings, little-known photo collages and original colour transparencies. It reveals the interdisciplinary range of these two artists, exploring how they both responded creatively to British landscapes and communities during the turbulent times through which they lived.

The exhibition opens with the moment the artists met in 1942 when Brandt photographed Moore in his studio for Lilliput magazine, in which the two artists’ shelter images were shown juxtaposed for the first time.

Both were often drawn to similar subjects. During WWII, there was a focus on ordinary people, the home and work. Both depicted coal miners - the quintessentially essential workforce in times of hardship and war - and made images in the underground shelters commandeered by London’s citizens during the war.

Where Moore’s work always reveals his sculptural instinct and tendency to abstraction rather than realism, Brandt’s is evocative of the gritty, daily life of working people and the widespread deprivation. That said, some of Brandt’s later work, particularly his nudes, do betray a Moore-like sculptural and abstract quality.

In contrast with the densely populated, often claustrophobic, urban subjects explored during the war, both later turned to nature and the open landscapes as primary sources of inspiration. A significant section of the exhibition looks at their enduring interest in rock formations, geological artefacts and megalithic sites, such as Stonehenge.

Ghislaine Wood, acting director of the Sainsbury Centre said: “Henry Moore is a crucial artist in our collection, and we are delighted to be able to show his work in a new light through its presentation alongside Bill Brandt, one of the most important photographers of the 20th century.

“This exhibition demonstrates how Henry Moore, often known as a sculptor, worked across media, including collage and photography, and how Brandt —through photography —presented the landscape and body as acutely sculptural.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a major new book published by the Yale Center for British Art in association with Yale University Press.
John Green

Bill Brandt | Henry Moore is at the Sainsbury Centre from December 3 – March 7 2021. Visit sainsburycentre.ac.uk.

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