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Learning How to See at the Nasher

by Stephen Becker 12 Jan 2010 8:15 AM

KERA guest commentator Patricia Mora is a writer living in Dallas who has studied in the U.S. and abroad. In this installment in her series on overlooked masterpieces in local collections, she discusses Barbara Hepworth’s Squares with Two Circles at the Nasher Sculpture Center.


Photo: Nasher Sculpture Center

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.

  • Norman Kary

    Ms Mora,

    I heard your comments this morning on Barbra Hepworth’s sculpture at the Nasher and was very pleased to know that there is someone out there with articulate and insightful intelligence to write about Art. I look forward to hearing or reading from you in the future.This town is sorely lacking in intelligent commentary on Art. I am glad to know there is a voice out there.

  • Dear Mr. Kary,

    Thank you so much for your comment. It is much appreciated! I love these installments — it’s a chance for me to “play.” This is my notion of terrific fun. It’s wonderful to share my love for something I find deeply important.

    All the best,
    Patricia Mora

  • Sydnie Kempen

    What a lovely surprise to find not only a beautiful sculpture but this cogent and evocative lesson that certainly taught me to “see better”. It is a joy to have someone take you by the hand and expand that immediate visceral reaction one has to art into something with meaning and understanding.

    Thank you.

  • Rene Toudouze

    I look forward to hearing more from you. I really appreciated your commentary on Hepworth’s work. How did Dallas get so lucky as to have you among our residents!?

  • anonymous

    Thank you for your insightful commentary on Squares with Two Circles and the nature of art in general.

  • Thank you all for your kind remarks! I was ill when I recorded this but I DO love to spread the word about things I love. It’s a version of Caliban on his the island—an urge to nick the surface of things closest to me.

    Many thanks for taking time to send a note.


  • Sharon Stupp

    How exhilarating to read such beautiful use of the English language. The effect on me was to print off Miss Mora’s exquisite words and head for the Nasher to view this piece with fresh perspective. Her stunning insight, unique approach is so refreshing. I can scarcely wait until her next review. And yes, we are lucky such a masterful writer is a resident of our art- rich city.

  • Kay

    Words that describe perfectly! I appreciate a mind that thinks like hers.

  • I never really took much time to think about the piece but it is an interesting one. It is somewhat like trying to understand a poem. I like the fact that is outside in a natural setting and the grand scale of it is also interesting. I just spent the day last week in Fort Worth at all the museums and now I need to go to the Nasher some fine day.