Henry Moore Sculpture Joins Public Art Collection on Columbia’s Morningside Campus

December 14, 2016

When Henry Moore’s bronze Reclining Figure was installed in front of Havemeyer Hall on December 14, Columbia became the second university in the United States, after MIT, to have two Moore sculptures on permanent display. The British sculptor (1898-1986) was one of the more prominent artists of the 20th century, celebrated for work that blended elements of Surrealism, abstraction and non-Western art to change the profile of public sculpture. His work is on display in parks and plazas worldwide, and in the collections of such museums as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Tate in London.

The University’s other Moore, Three-Way Piece: Points, is on Revson Plaza, which is located on the bridge over Amsterdam Avenue, and was donated in 1967 by Miriam and Ira D. Wallach, who established an endowment in 1986 for the creation of the Wallach Art Gallery. Reclining Figure was designed by Moore from 1969 to 1970 and subsequently cast in bronze, one of five in a series of six, by the Hermann Noack foundry in Berlin.

The sculpture was originally slated to arrive on campus in the spring. Last April, excavation began on the South Lawn in front of Butler Library, the site agreed upon by Columbia and the artwork’s donors, David and Laura Finn, decades ago when they donated it. (Several large-scale Moore sculptures were on loan to Columbia from 1983 to 1986 and occupied the lawns in front of Butler.) The Finns, longtime friends of Moore, have four children who graduated from Columbia and David Finn, a fine art photographer and cofounder of the public relations agency Ruder Finn, has published numerous books on photographing sculpture.

But this past spring, more than 1,200 students signed a petition opposing the installation of the sculpture on the Butler lawn. The Columbia Daily Spectator noted their complaints about the look of the sculpture, its placement and the administration’s lack of transparency. The campus protest was reported in the art and mainstream press, including The New York Times and British publications such as the Telegraph and the Sunday Times of London, where there was great interest because of Moore’s renown.

Students’ opinions varied. One noted in the Spectator, “Let some welcome; let some protest; let all react. The discussion that Reclining Figure has sparked is precisely why it is a perfect addition to our campus.”

“Art that is worthy of the name provokes passionate reactions and critical debate, a view expressed by many in our community upon hearing the criticism of the planned introduction of Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure to our campus. Discussing the merits of Moore’s sculpture is a conversation quintessentially appropriate for a university community,” said the University administration in a statement.

In May, at a University Senate plenary meeting, President Lee C. Bollinger acknowledged the inadequacy of the official discussion about the sculpture’s installation and committed to conveying more information at the start of the fall semester. The matter was referred to the Committee on Art Properties for analysis and recommendation. The 10-member committee is appointed by the provost and advises President Bollinger on issues related to Columbia’s art collections, acquisitions and public outdoor sculpture.

After reviewing other campus sites, the lawn near Havemeyer was selected as the new site for Moore’s Reclining Figure and was acceptable to the Finns.

“Our family has lived with and enjoyed Reclining Figure for many years,” said David Finn. “Henry Moore said, ‘Sculpture is an art of the open air. Daylight, sunlight is necessary to it.’ He would have been proud to see it here, and we are delighted that thousands of Columbia students and others will now have the opportunity to know and appreciate this amazing work of art.”

Reclining Figure joins more than 20 public sculptures on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, including Clement Meadmore’s Curl, a cast of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker and, of course, Daniel Chester French’s iconic Alma Mater, who presides over campus from the steps of Low Library.

The addition of Reclining Figure is the inspiration for a new undergraduate seminar next spring, “Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia and Barnard,” which will be co-taught by Professor Robert Harrist and Roberto C. Ferrari, curator of art properties at Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

Of Moore, Ferrari said: “The array of diverse shapes and sizes of his monumental bronzes demonstrates well his talents as an inventive sculptor and provides insights into his belief in the vital role of public art for modern living.”

—By Eve Glasberg

—Video By Columbia News Video Team