Review: Dorothy Annan and Trevor Tennant at the Henry Moore Institute

While the Henry Moore Institute is currently staging an ongoing series of sculptural events – many of them, bravely considering the time of year, taking place outside the building – it has also recently unveiled an exhibition in the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, focussing on the works of two British sculptors, Dorothy Annan and Trevor Tennant.

Annan’s work was primarily in beautiful mosaics while Tennant produced forms and figures, including some especially designed for children’s playgrounds. Their output belongs to a period from the 1930’s to the 1960’s and Tennant’s work in particular shows a clear debt to Henry Moore.

This is one of the shows where original pieces are not present but instead are represented by photographs, design sketches and magazine articles. It makes for a decidedly conceptual experience – seeing the work at second hand and within a different medium. It’s rather sad to read that one particularly  spectacular mosaic Expanded Universe no longer exists and survives only as a photographic after image.

Fortunately, while the pieces themselves may be out of reach, the photographs are generally of a good quality and don’t obscure the nature of Annan and Tennant’s work. These were very socially conscious artists, devoted to bringing abstract images of hope and unity into public areas. They demonstrated a commitment to improving living spaces on more than just a functional level. Even without seeing them in the flesh (as it were) these  designs clearly brought some character to the environments they occupied. There is something wonderful about seeing an austere, early 60’s landscape made more human and less monumental by the presence of playful modern art. Both artists managed to suggest, through symbols and forms, a mysterious – even magical – world beyond the concrete jungle. It’s also lovely to see Tennant’s sculptures being climbed on by children – a great example of how art can be for fun as well as for its more serious minded ideals.

Perhaps because many of the photos are rather small, this is quite a low key show. While I was there, several people just walked through the room without taking the time to even look at the exhibition. This is a shame because these images reveal the charm and potential of art outside of a gallery setting.


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