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First Look: Bacon/Moore at the Ashmolean

9 September 2013

In this ongoing series, Apollo previews a range of international exhibitions, asking curators to reveal their personal highlights and curatorial impulses. Martin Harrison is the curator (with Richard Calvocoressi) of ‘Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’ at the Ashmolean, Oxford

Tell us a bit about the exhibition…

Bacon and Moore were Britain’s leading figurative artists in the second half of the 20th century. Our aim has been to inform both by juxtaposing works that address the theme of the human body from different viewpoints – to explore what they had in common and how they diverged.

What makes this a distinctive show?

Although Moore made drawings, he is best known as a sculptor. The sustained dialogue between works in two and three dimensions is what makes this exhibition distinctive, and, I hope, fascinating.

How did you come to curate this exhibition?

Richard Calvocoressi, Director of the Henry Moore Foundation, is also a member of my Bacon Authentication Committee; I think the idea of combining our shared interests was originally his, one to which, as a lover of sculpture, I readily agreed.

What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?

For me there are many, but I am looking forward to seeing Moore’s huge Upright Motives in the same room as Bacon’s 1988 triptych Second Version of Triptych, 1944.

And what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?

It was really in putting the show together with Richard, which we did mainly in three intense days at my house in London. It was genuinely stimulating and informative to find how the works bounced off one another.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?

The works were very carefully chosen. The challenge comes in when you have to persuade private individuals and public institutions to lend the specific works you have decided you need. We were very fortunate in this respect!

How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the hang/installation pose?

There are two quite low rooms and one tall one, so scale became a significant factor in arranging the works. Beyond that some of the Moores presented problems of both size and weight.

Which other works would you have liked to have included?

I suppose with Bacon almost everyone planning an exhibition wants to borrow Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), but no one can because Tate, quite rightly, can’t let it travel for conservation reasons.

‘Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’ is at the Ashmolean, Oxford from 12 September 2013–19 January 2014.