views, reviews and previews
Sculpture for a Modern world
24 June–25 October
Admission £16.30, concessions available
Barbara Hepworthwas one of the leading sculptors of the twentieth century. This exhibition places a selection of her smaller and earlier work within the wider context of her own sketches and photographs, and works and writings by some of the artists amongst whom she lived.
The show is by no means an exhaustive treatment of those contexts or of her work. That is inevitable for an artist many of whose works are land/townscape specific and some of which are very large – Winged Figure was never going to flap off to Milbank from the Oxford Street John Lewis. Nor can The Family of Man, her last major figurative work, be uprooted (the word is apt for so visceral an artist) from St Ives.
The curators are well aware of the limitations imposed on the show by Hepworth’s meticulous concern for size and context. Their most successful device to overcome these limitations is a film of Hepworth at work in Cornwall. This really does make sense of some of her work. Set the ovoids and cuboids in a landscape with a lighthouse in the distance and we might think, yes, that’s how the abstraction arises. However, she had been working on her ovoids and cuboids before she ever went to Cornwall so quite where they came from is less obvious. Certainly there is the influence of the Constructivist sculptor Gabo whom she knew as a refugee from Stalinist Russia in pre-War Hampstead. Perhaps as important, though you wouldn’t know from this show, was the example of her father, a civil engineer.
Chasing influences can be dull but is inevitable with Hepworth. For one, in contact with other artists her work kept on changing. In a sense it did not really settle down until she went to Cornwall, almost halfway through her career. And there is also a lot of critical commentary about her generated by her own conversation and writing. The question this show poses is how well did these influences work out.
One strand of the influences is the geometry learnt from Gabo and her father. Gabo didn’t follow the tradition that sculpture is primarily concerned with mass and volume. Instead, he started from the delineation of space, literally using lines to do so. Hepworth, though she may have worked with Gabo’s strings set across her work, still had an intrinsic love of the materials she was using. Hepworth’s strings are almost a trademark. They appear in her theatrical designs and on the side of John Lewis. But I have yet to like them. Her holes are much better.
And she wasn’t the first person to put holes through a sculpture but her holes were the first to be the sculptural equivalent to silence in music. They are part of the rhythm of her work, creating a relationship between form and vacant, indefinite space. The effect is to make simple, tight, three-dimensional objects. And the balance and harmony between form and space is delicious, if that’s not too cheery a word for Hepworth’s sober art.
The holes work best in works which are rooted in the land or the human body. Hepworth’s take on land and bodies was with her from the beginning. This is made clear at the start of the show. Here an early pair of doves is set beside Epstein’s more famous pair. Epstein’s direct carving pared down almost to abstraction is something with which Hepworth is in tune. But beside the Epstein her own doves are very nearly kitsch. They are friendly and nurturing. They do not show what the Tate calls Epstein’s interest in ‘procreative themes.’ Later Hepworth will share something of the monumentality of Cycladic art and the earthiness of dolmens. She will have a sense of figures or self in a landscape of moors and rocky coasts. She won’t do human interaction even when she places figures in relation.
The show ends with another attempt to overcome the limits of its galleries. A mock up has been made of the Rietveld Pavilion in Kröller-Müller where some of Hepworth’s later bronze casts are displayed in a mix of landscape and buildings. The show would desperately like to recreate the situation of those bronzes and the relationship of their flowing and open forms to the space around them, but large photographs can’t take the place of real landscape. It would have been better to end in the previous gallery with some of Hepworth’s greatest carvings, those made from the African guarea wood. These show what happens when all her favourite devices, even the strings, are put at the service of the wood and her own feeling for space and rhythm. They are proof Hepworth’s abstraction does work. The influences did come together.
Savoy Theatre, London
PIRATES OF PENZANCE
English National Opera
I willadmit to being the sort of musical theatre obsessive who gets out scores, listens to recordings and reads scripts and notes before going to see a production. Over one weekend I was lucky enough to see two wonderful productions in the West End: the English National Opera’s gloriously camp Pirates of Penzance and Imelda Staunton’s triumph in Gypsy. This meant my study looked like a bit of wreck with LPs of Reed singing Pirates and Merman singing Gypsy; as well as copies of the Oxford Companion to the American Musical and of course Ian Bradley’s seminal companion to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. I was also surprised to rediscover that my earliest recording of Pirates is from 1904 with a rather reedy Isabel Jay singing ‘Poor wand’ring one’. The ENO production of Pirates was all that you would want in a modern revival. I am never too keen on the insistence of having a modern set at the ENO but this one seemed to work, with a pirate ship easily becoming the rocky mountains over which the maidens and Major General come. If I had one criticism it was that some of the dialogue was lost on those of us sat in the gods. I was with a ‘G & S virgin’ and whilst he enjoyed the music he had missed much of Gilbert’s very witty dialogue. The Major General’s song was fast and very impressive indeed – and thank goodness there was no attempt to update any of the lyrics. The national love affair with Gilbert and Sullivan is surely due for a revival; our current political situation with Scottish MPs wielding a sword of English issues could very well come from an operetta of the great duo. What is clear, to me at least, is that Gilbert and Sullivan mark the beginning of the great modern musical.
There can be no greater musical than Gypsy, currently running at the Savoy in
London. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the hype that I ‘had’ to see Gypsy; after all, that same hype tells us The Book of Mormon is the greatest musical ever (it is not – but Gypsy might be a front runner for the title).
Imelda Staunton is simply stunning. Her portrayal of Rose’s eventual breakdown was just breathtaking. She held the audience, stood silently on stage for thirty seconds at the peak of the breakdown. It was a moment of unsurpassable theatre, and proves that musicals are not second rate pieces of theatre. Staunton has a wonderful voice and her renditions of ‘Everything’s coming up roses’ and ‘Rose’s turn’ literally brought the house down. This is an ensemble piece and Peter Davison as Herbie gives a touching and funny performance as he tries to deal with being in love with a woman whose ambition for her children is everything, even if it means losing everything. Lara Pulver is a very seductive Louise who becomes Gypsy Rose Lee – she turns the childish ‘Let me entertain you’ into a very seductive song by the end of the musical. I was surrounded by school children the night I was there and with them the song of the burlesque masters was a big hit. ‘You’ve got to have a gimmick’ is after all an anthem of the modern world. By the time you read this review Pirates will have finished its run – but Gypsy has been extended to the end of November. So if you see anything in the second half of this year go and see Gypsy. The adverts are not simply hype, they are true; it is a spectacular piece of theatre.
NOT IN GOD’S NAME
Confronting Religious ViolenceJonathan Sacks
Hodder & Stoughton, 320pp, hbk
978 1473616516, £20
This isa very good book: and that is what we have come to expect of Rabbi Lord Sacks who, having retired as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in 2013, continues to contribute thoughtfully to public moral discourse. His theme in this book is, first, to explore the origins of (so-called) religious violence – or, in his own terminology, ‘altruistic evil’ – and then to offer a specifically theological rebuke both to those who wage war in the name of God, as well as those who believe an a-religious world would fare any better than our own.
The first of the three parts of the book offers a social and anthropological aetiology of discord and competition in human society. Sacks is particularly critical of dualism – both in religion and in post-Enlightenment secular understanding. Next, in a specifically rabbinical voice, Sacks comments upon four Torahic narratives – Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers, and Leah and Rachel – in light of modern-day religious rivalry. These chapters are a fascinating read: I wonder how those who come to this text without a religious background experience them? Sacks’ readings of the biblical material are imaginative, sometimes almost mischievous – and, I think, would come as a shock to those whose only interpretative tools for religious texts are historical-critical ones. Finally, Sacks reconstructs a religious rationale for engagement with the challenges of the global present. In this respect, of course, the book will be a failure: it will not convince the jihadist to reconsider his murderous programme, nor is it likely to divert the potential terrorist from radicalization – the line of argument is too subtle. It might, however, offer robust material with which to begin to speak in public of good and bad religion, from which ability the modern West is hamstrung by secular relativism.
As I have intimated, the middle section of the book is in some senses the most interesting. Sacks’ hermeneutics did not in every case persuade me; nor was I convinced that he had in each instance lighted tenably upon an interpretative answer so at variance with received traditions of understanding. In the final part of the work, Sacks offers a compelling assault on religious literalism, but this is not in turn complete justification for reading the biblical stories quite so obliquely.
Philosophically, parts I and III are very sound, and very clear and helpful. It was also interesting to note the points of departure between Sacks’ Jewish perspective and my own Christianity: for instance, a Christian would probably reject what Sacks terms a fundamental distinction between justice and love in morality. As a contribution to the exercise of public and civil morality, Sacks’ observations are very sage, and his articulation of the religious basis of liberal democracy pretty much unassailable, relying nonetheless upon a clear understanding of the distinction between sacred and secular. ‘Western democracy is not Athenian democracy. It is a rare phenomenon in political history because of its modesty, its sense of limits, its self-restraint. The liberal democratic state does not aspire to be the embodiment of the good, the beautiful and the true. It merely seeks to keep the peace...’ Reading this book, there arose in my mind the question whether present-day illiberal liberalism is the orphan-child of monotheistic absolutism and pluralistic relativism. (As you do.) There are also excellent passages on the difference between cultures of blame and penitence, and the characteristics of personal and public morality in light of the notion of a people chosen by God.
Buy this book and read it. It really is very good.
England’s First Queen Regnant
Gracewing, 217pp, pbk
978 0852448564, £12.99
Like thecoal seams of the North East, the reign of Mary Tudor has so little left to extract that what is dug up is not worth the price of doing so. If universities were run like the Coal Board, academics still researching England in the mid-1550s would be offered incentives to move to areas where they could work more usefully. What we need is a book about what the last thirty years of research have told us; then we could consider the subject closed. Dr Slysz has written it.
Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen Regnant has three sections. The first tells you how her reputation has been restored in the last decades; the second tells you about her life; the third contains a good analysis of the themes of her reign. If you want to read about Mary, buy it.
From it, you will learn that she was a Catholic, that she made the country Catholic again after her father and brother had made it Protestant, that Catholics think this was a good thing, Protestants a bad one. Secularists tend to side with the Protestants. The change in the judgements made about Mary was caused by the replacement of the first group by the second in the relevant teaching positions in English universities.
The next few decades will see the secularists replace the Catholics, and we will go back to hating Mary. In fact, she will probably be dug up, and put on the boat to Holland to face war-crimes charges at The Hague. So, read this sensible book, and then ignore everything that comes after it, and you will understand what there is to be understood about this woman and the England she tried to make.
For readers of NEWDIRECTIONS the question raised by Mary Tudor is whether the Ordinariate, or the Society? Mary stayed in England during the reign of Edward, when it would have been easier to flee, and she believed that the restoration of the English Church was possible, despite years under heretical control. If the ghost of this small, unexpectedly pretty woman, wearing the best sixteenth-century fashion, is to be found anywhere on the current ecclesiastical scene, it will surely be at the Bishop of Fulham’s Chrism Mass rather than Warwick Street.
SYON ABBEY 1415–2015
England’s Last Medieval Monastery
E. A. Jones
Gracewing, 164pp, pbk
978 0852448724, £9.99
A coupleof years ago, I found myself facing the might of the French army on the site of the Battle of Agincourt! Around me were life-sized cut-out figures of English archers. In front of me were cut-outs of French knights. As the landscape hasn’t changed since the battle took place, it was very atmospheric and made that day in history seem very real.
‘As any fule no’ (as Nigel Molesworth would say), that battle took place on 25 October 1415. A few months earlier, on 22 February, back in England, the same king who was to gain victory in the battle, Henry V, was laying thefoundation stone of the first English Bridgettine monastery at Twickenham.
The Swedish saint, Bridget, unlike most medieval holy women, was neither a virgin nor a martyr, but a wife and mother. Bridget had received visions since childhood, but in 1346 she had a revelation from Christ that she should found a double monastery for men and women at Vadstena in Sweden. This she did. Interestingly, given the times in which she lived, the women took precedence over the men and the Abbess, not the Abbot, was the ultimate ruler and dispenser of justice in the house!
Henry V was a religious reformer. He saw in the Bridgettine order a new expression of the monastic life that he felt would help the church in England to renew itself. The community at Vadstena was invited to send over some monks and nuns to found a new house at Syon, which they did. The house grew and prospered until it became one of the most affluent in the land. In 1539 it was suppressed by the order of Henry VIII and the sisters and monks were dispersed. They went ‘underground’ and were briefly restored in Queen Mary’s reign. When Elizabeth came to the throne they moved to the continent, where they ‘wandered’ through the Netherlands and France, eventually coming to Lisbon in 1594. They remained there until 1861 when they returned to England, settling in Devon.
This book tells their story of faithfulness to their order and their unbroken history from 1415 to 2015 when the last three elderly sisters ‘retired’.
Sometimes this account is a bit dry and pedestrian, but there are also wonderfully human references. For example, the description of the sign language used by the sisters during the silent meals on page 22 is fascinating and will not be unfamiliar to religious or monastic visitors of today. For example, for abbess use the sign for age and a woman (unfortunately we are not told what those signs were!). For mustard ‘hold your nose in the upper part of your right fist and rub it’. For sleeping ‘put your right hand under your cheek and with that close your eyes’!
Having seen pictures of the Bridgettine sisters (they run a guest house in Rome) I often wondered why they had a cross in red on the top of their wimple. I learnt here that the sisters wore a cross-shaped crown of white linen on their heads onto which was sown five scraps of red cloth to represent the five wounds of Christ. As Henry V had a great devotion to the ‘Five Wounds of Jesus’ that was another reason why he was attracted to them.
This book is packed with detail about the origins and history of the monastery at Syon, both physically in that place and ‘in diaspora’.
This a specialized book, but one which is a must for anyone who wants to deepen their knowledge of this fascinating order.
THE JESUS PRAYER AND THE GREAT EXCHANGE
Grove Books, 28pp, pbk
978 1851748563, £3.99
‘This ismy Pentecost!’ said Fr Sophrony with a humorous glint holding the prayer rope. ‘I start by holding it, and asking the Holy Spirit to pray within me: ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’ Then he took the cruciform, knotted cross above the tassel between his forefinger and thumb, saying, ‘Draw me through the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, into the triune love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit!’ He moved his forefinger and thumb to hold the first knot and prayed, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner!’
With this vivid ritual anecdote, unusual in a Grove Booklet, Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward describes the first impact upon him of his Orthodox mentor Fr Sophrony of the Monastery of St John, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex. It showed him how the charismatic invocation of the Spirit can be allied with evangelical simplicity of devotion in the Jesus Prayer of Orthodoxy. Bishop Simon became my bishop and something of a spiritual inspiration to me in 1990 shortly after his exposure to Fr Sophrony. To this day I recall him saying it didn’t matter whether you were high church or low church as long as you were ‘deep church’. His latest booklet evidences something of his own Christian depth that has been an inspiration to many over his long life. The author describes what he calls ‘the Great Exchange’ which is the truth that God who comes to us in Christ lifts us into his life true to his ‘great and precious promises, by which we may be enabled to escape the corruption of lust that is in the world, and may become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1.4). This truth first dawned on Simon as a student in Dahlem, Berlin after the Second World War through the sacramental ministry of Pastor Daenstedt. He recalls a moment around the altar when words crom John 15 came true to him, ‘I am the vine. You are the branches...without me you can do nothing’.
The gift of the Jesus Prayer which serves this divine union came to him thirty years later in 1984 in the wake of his engaging with the charismatic renewal which has strong emphasis on the indwelling of God’s Spirit in believers. The author describes ‘the interplay of God’s journey with us in Christ through the Holy Spirit and,
through the same Holy Spirit, our journey in and with Christ to the Father’. In that growing union ‘the Eucharist is central...the fullest possible realization of the same double movement, the same interchange...realized constantly in the Jesus Prayer. The ‘practice of the presence of Christ,’ crucified and risen, seem[ing] to draw us ever more deeply in the Spirit into a growing oneness with the triune God’.
This little booklet speaks primarily of the Jesus Prayer (with or without a rope!) as a scriptural aid to prayerful union with God, and of he with us, through the gift he makes of it to us, or rather, a good number of Christians in our age. A good part of the text is devoted to a pilgrimage Bishop Simon made in 2011 to Mount Athos which drew him to the writings of St Gregory Palamas (1296–1359) on ‘theosis’ or union with God. Bishop Simon emphasizes this union links to deeper awareness of sin and the need for ongoing surrender to God which the discipline of saying the Jesus Prayer can express as a radiant thread running through your life. It is an inspirational read, short and to the point, drawing on the faith of the Church from right across the Church and right down through the ages.
EUCHARISTIC PRAYERS FOR MASSES WITH CHILDREN
Catholic Truth Society, 56pp, hbk
978 1860829215, £30
MORNING & EVENING
Meditations & Catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles
Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI
Catholic Truth Society, 512pp, hbk
978 178469051, £16.95
Here are two excellent publications from the Catholic Truth Society which will be of interest to all who use the Roman Rite for the Eucharist and the Daily Office. Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children beautifully sets out three Eucharistic Prayers for children in the same style and format as that used for the new edition of the Roman Missal. (The third Eucharistic Prayer has a variant for use in Easter time, meaning that four prayers are actually printed here.) The Communion Rite is printed in full, but there are no propers included, so this is not a complete resource for Masses with children. It is, however, a valuable addition to the liturgical bookshelf of any parish or individual who regularly uses the Roman Rite; and may be of interest to liturgists more generally as well. At £30 it is not cheap, but it is beautifully produced.
Morning & Evening Prayer: Meditations & Catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles is a bountiful resource for anyone who prays the Divine Office. There is a meditation on every psalm and canticle used in the four week cycle of ordinary time, as well as short reflections on the offices of Lauds and Vespers. These include reflections on the psalms as the ‘ideal source of Christian Prayer’ and on the nature of the Office in general. The book could be used as a daily companion to the office, but also more widely by anybody seeking a commentary on the psalms and canticles contained therein. It will also be a valuable book for anybody seeking to deepen their understanding of the daily office and the particular role it plays within the life of the Church and the prayer life of individuals.
The meditations were given at the Wednesday General Papal Audiences. Started by Pope St John Paul II in March 2001 and continued by Pope Benedict until their completion in February 2006, they form a considerable body of work when brought together in one volume. At times the style is a little dry – the paragraphs are numbered in the manner of a report – but the substance is consistently solid (as one would expect) and frequently much more than that. The text of each psalm and canticle is given in full (apart from occasions when they are repeated within the four week cycle), which means the volume really is a complete resource. As such, it will be of value to all – priests and people – who wish to deepen their knowledge of and love for the Divine Office. Highly recommended.
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