New York

Diana Moore, Full Figure No. II (Athlete), 1995, carbon steel, aluminum, 73 × 22 × 16". Photo: Allan Stone Projects

Diana Moore, Full Figure No. II (Athlete), 1995, carbon steel, aluminum, 73 × 22 × 16". Photo: Allan Stone Projects

Diana Moore

Diana Moore’s eleven-foot-tall Head of Justice, 1991, commands a plaza in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building & Courthouse in Newark, New Jersey. And the artist’s stainless-steel statue of Figure of Justice, 1998, at nine and a half feet tall, towers over the foyer of another courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire. Working as a figurative sculptor since the late 1960s, Moore gained prominence with these and other 1990s commissions by the US General Services Administration—they are touchstones of her practice. Intended to stand as universal figures, the monuments nonetheless bring an unexpected sense of originality, even agency, to these allegorical personifications. Lady Justice, for example, is shown blindfolding herself. Moore’s art, like this female symbol of right and reason, demands the respect that ample space provides.

That is why it was disconcerting to come across a selection of her sculptures—six small heads and a complete figure almost eight feet tall—displayed in cramped quarters behind a large exhibition of abstract paintings by a male artist. The crowded arrangement may have been intended to provide an intimate view of a public sculptor’s practice, but instead it stifled the expansive nature of even her modestly scaled works, making the artist’s careful formal decisions seem capricious. The mishmash of metal stands, concrete bases, and white pedestals dissolved much of her original logic for matching specific shapes and materials to individual pieces. More significant, the inclusion of Full Figure No. II (Athlete), 1995, a weathered carbon-steel sculpture that stands almost eight feet high on its squat platform, flattened the distinctions between the smaller sculptures, making a trio of nearby heads—Black Head, 1986; White Head, 1988; and Brown Head, 1985—seem more alike than they really are. Yet the heads, rendered with a fearful symmetry, aren’t identical: Each set of lips is parted to varying degrees, the hairstyles are subtly unique, and the necks are cropped at different angles. In the shadow of Full Figure, however, the only distinguishing quality between the pieces was color. Moore mixes pigment with concrete for many of her works. The result is an intriguingly uneven hue: Brown Head in particular is mottled, even blotchy—a stark contrast to the pale marbles of antiquity that we find in museums everywhere, and closer in consistency to actual skin.

The show made plain just how central the figure of Justice has been to Moore’s production, both before and after her important commissions. Head of Justice, 1997, a matte-black bust in stainless steel, wore a blindfold that looks like a sleeping mask. It rests gently on her face—she appears resolute. Head of Justice #1, 1990, however, gave off a vastly different energy. Tinted a dark brownish gray, the head is bound by two triangular pieces of cloth, one over each eye. The fabric cuts into Justice’s skin. Deep lines are etched into her cheeks, and the material’s folds feel harsh, painful. Most uncomfortably, her eyes are wide open beneath the coverings. Shoved to the back of the gallery, staring into darkness, she painfully emblematized our own miserable zeitgeist. Justice, and the artist, deserve so much more.