KERA guest commentator Patricia Mora is a writer living in Dallas who has studied in the U.S. and abroad. During her career, she’s written about art and architecture in a variety of media. She earned a Master’s degree in Humanities and has studied Comparative Religion under Harvard professor Diana Eck. This is the next installment in her series on overlooked masterpieces in local collections. She discussed the Kimbell Art Museum’s The Flight into Egypt in October.
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Shakespeare’s King Lear reminds us our essential human task is learning to “see better.” And Barbara Hepworth’s Squares with Two Circles at the Nasher Sculpture Center is a great place to start. Despite its name, the piece is composed of two bronze rectangles — two vertical slabs distinctly elongated and shot through with large circular openings that, quite literally, show us everything. They show us what’s on the other side, what’s beyond our usual perspectival glance.
Wherever you choose to stand, this piece charges your imagination in varied and spectacular ways. The openings allow you to compose a landscape. You can reveal a canopy of trees, a brilliant sky or a hybrid of both. This sculpture is a marvelous example of how art shows us things as we are, as we shape and bend them to our own psyches and mythologies. And, for those who worry about relativism: it’s not that either. It’s merely an admission we constantly edit our world. We deem things beautiful or abhorrent, credible or spurious. Or in this case, irreducibly seductive.
Squares with Two Circles is quite simple. It’s pared down, massive and without decoration. Yet it also possesses limitless configurations as we look at it again and then again. While the current placement of Hepworth’s piece in front of a pool with multiple fountains is perfectly attractive, you also wouldn’t be surprised if you came across it some short distance from Stonehenge. It has an ageless, archaic presence. It seems simultaneously contemporary and ancient. Plus, the sculpture was cast in 1964 and it’s had time to age a bit, to create that marvelous bluish-green tinge that bronze manifests over time.
To quote a bit of Scripture redacted from Greek poetry, this piece constellates a space in which “we live and move and have our being.” And from that space, this fascinating archetypal incarnation speaks to us at the deepest level. It’s a looming and somewhat overwhelming solid mass. Yet it’s also a morphing structure that glides into new curvatures to blend with our own shifting psyches.
Once taken in and aligned with your own history, Squares with Two Circles becomes as ancient as perception itself. I suspect you’ll discover you have, indeed, learned “to see better.” And that’s no small feat.