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Art: Comparison of Works on Postmodernism and Modernism

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In this essay I will be comparing two sculptures by two different artists in two different periods of time. The first sculpture I will look at is ‘Half-Figure’ by Henry Moore. I will compare this with ‘Angel of the North’ by Antony Gormley. The first sculpture is an example of modernism, and the second an example of postmodernism. As well as comparing the two sculptures I will talk about why Moore’s sculpture is an example of modernism, and why Gormley’s sculpture is an example of postmodernism. I will describe the artist’s use of materials, the art works meaning, and how these two sculptures of figures compare with each other.

Modernism in art refers roughly to the period between the 1860s and the 1970s. It was a period when artists started using new techniques and materials to describe the modern, industrial world in which they were living. Modernism refers to many different movements rather than just being one approach to art, but all of these new ways of making art shared certain values. Modernism placed a lot of importance on experimenting and making art in new ways. It was against the traditions of the past, especially making realistic versions of things, and placed more importance on the abstract, as well as materials used and techniques. Early modernist artists include Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, Georges Braque, and Kazimir Malevich. By the 1960s modernism was the main approach to art.

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Henry Moore was an artist who expressed the values of modernism most famously through his semi-abstract sculptures. Henry Moore said of his art: ‘All art should have a certain mystery and should make demands on the spectator. Giving a sculpture or a drawing too explicit a title takes away part of that mystery so that the spectator moves on to the next object, making no effort to ponder the meaning of what he has just seen. Everyone thinks that he or she looks but they don’t really, you know.’ Moore was 40 years old when he carved ‘Half-Figure’. The abstracted version of reality shows his interest in modernism, but also of much older art. Moore said that one of the influences on his work was ancient Egyptian art. This piece was one of a series of half-length female figures he made between 1929 and 1932, and shows his technique of carving directly into the materials. It is made of grey Armenian marble, and the figure is wrapping its arms around itself. Her head is raised in a way that makes her look alert, as if she has noticed or is thinking about something. He made this sculpture using direct carving with chisels, and Moore’s approach was not to plan the sculpture too carefully but to let it take shape as he worked. In keeping with modernism it was therefore made from the artists imagination rather than by copying a real figure directly.

Post modernism in art refers roughly to the period from the 1970s until the present. As modernism was a reaction against the work before it, postmodernism is a reaction against the art of modernism. Whereas modernism tried to describe universal truths and a belief in progress, postmodernism is often sceptical, ironic and philosophical, focusing on individual experience rather than collective truths. Postmodernism was first used as a term around the 1970s, and like modernism it includes many different approaches to art. Modernism was often simple and clear, postmodernism is often complex and even contradictory.

Antony Gormley, is most famous for his sculpture ‘Angel of the North’, a public large scale sculpture situated in the north of England in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. The sculpture stands on top of ground that used to be used for coal mining, which was a large part of the areas industrial past. Gormley is famous for often casting his own body for his sculptures, so while many people might at first assume that the angel is female, this is not made clear by the artist. The sculpture is made of COR-TEN weather resistant steel and is 20 metres tall with a wingspan of 54 metres. The artist has said that the angel is a symbol of the coal miners who used to work below the ground, as well as a symbol of the change from an industrial age to the information age. He also said that it is a focus for our evolving hopes and fears.

I think it is interesting to compare the two art works, because they have things in common as well as being very different. Moore’s sculpture is a good example of modernism in its use of materials, its abstracted form, and a moment of experience we can share in. Gormley’s angel is a good example of postmodernism, clearly referring to the passing of the modern, industrial age. They are both focused on human emotions and human experience in a way that shows us that even if the techniques and materials that artists use changes, art is still a way for describing how we feel about the world.


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