Prosthetics and sculpture: art meets medicine at the Henry Moore Institute

Macabre exhibition for summer
Leeds' Henry Moore Institute presents a fascinating, macabre exhibition for summer, entitled 'The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics'. Pictured: video still from Entartete Kunst Lebt, by Yael Bartana, 2010.
(Image credit: Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Sommer Contemporary Art)

Is art useful? As part of its mission to 'to bring people together to think about why sculpture matters' a new exhibition running until October at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds presents the art of prosthetics, positing the pragmatic side to sculpture and its ongoing dialogue with advancements in medical science. On view across three galleries, the exhibition brings together more than 70 examples, from the turn of the 19th century up to a new outdoor sculpture by Rebecca Warren.

The exhibition puts a particular emphasis on the response of creative thinkers in the postwar periods in Europe, where designers, artists and doctors were searching for solutions for the fragmented body – as well as ways to articulate and express new hybrid bodies, part man, part machine. Among the remarkable makers is Francis Derwent Wood, a British sculptor, who after being exposed to the horrific injuries suffered by men during the First World War (during which more than 20,000 British soldiers alone were facially wounded) opened a clinic for the disfigured, sculpting custom-made masks from thin metal for soldiers to conceal their wounds. It’s part of a remarkable trajectory tracing the role of creativity in rebuilding and rethinking the body in times where it has been challenged by both politics and technology.

Alongside radical contemporary artists widely renowned for their interest in prosthetics and body modification – such as the late Louise Bourgeois and Rebecca Horn – are examples of experimentation with the forms and functions of the body by pioneers in other disciplines, such as the iconic design duo Charles and Ray Eames.

Stuart Louise Bourgeois Leg

On view across three galleries, the exhibition brings together more than 70 examples from the turn of the 19th century up to the present day. Pictured: Louise Bourgeois' Leg, by Stuart Brisley, 2002. 

(Image credit: Andy Keate / Courtesy the artist and Hales London New York)

Rebecca Horn Unicorn And Shoulder Extension

The exhibition puts a particular emphasis on the response of creative thinkers in the post-war periods in Europe, where designers, artists and doctors were searching for solutions for the fragmented body. Pictured left: Unicorn, by Rebecca Horn, 1970. Right: Moveable Shoulder Extensions, by Rebecca Horn, 1971. 

(Image credit: Achim Thode / Courtesy Rebecca Horn/DACS, 2016)

Prosthetic devices for the leg

Pictured left: prosthetic devices for the leg, 1890–1910. Right: Finger Gloves, by Rebecca Horn, 1972.

(Image credit: Left: Courtesy Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library. Right: Achim Thode / Courtesy Rebecca Horn/DACS, 2016)

The Cabinet of Bessie Gilmore

Pictured: The Cabinet of Bessie Gilmore, by Matthew Barney, 1999. 

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery)

Captain Francis Derwent Wood

Among the makers is Francis Derwent Wood, a British sculptor, who after being exposed to the horrific injuries suffered by men during the first world war opened a clinic for the facially disfigured. Pictured: Captain Francis Derwent Wood RA of the Royal Army Medical Corps adds the finishing touches to a patient's new facial plate, c.1914–188. 

(Image credit: Horace Nicholls / Courtesy the Imperial War Museum, London)

Denkmal der unbekannten Prothesen

Pictured: Denkmal der unbekannten Prothesen (Monument to Unknown Prostheses), by Heinrich Hoerle, 1930. 

(Image credit: Courtesy Medienzentrum, Antje-Zeis-Loi/Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal)

Rock Drill, by Jacob Epstein

Pictured left: Rock Drill, by Jacob Epstein, 1913.  Right: Henriette, by Louise Bourgeois, 1985.

(Image credit: Left: Courtesy the estate of Sir Jacob Epstein. Right: Photography: Christopher Burke. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth and Cheim & Read. Copyright The Easton Foundation/VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2016)

INFORMATION

’The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics’ is on view until 23 October. For more information, visit the Henry Moore Institute website (opens in new tab)

ADDRESS

Henry Moore Institute
74 The Headrow
Leeds, LS1 3AH

VIEW GOOGLE MAPS

Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.