Giacometti and Moore were the sculptors Sylvester was most closely associated with. Both were primarily sculptors of the human body. The way Sylvester experienced their figurative work was inevitably affected by recognition of the human form- for example, they way that his posture stiffened involuntarily in the presence of a Giacometti sculpture.
His experience of abstract sculpture was often predicated on the way its physical form affected him in a similar way. For instance, in his 1967 interview with Robert Morris, Sylvester began:
'I have found with almost all the pieces that the kinds of feelings and muscular sensations that I have in front of them are the sorts that one has in looking at humanist sculpture and painting of the figure- that is to say, a very pronounced sense of one's own body and feelings about extensions of once's own body, the scale of it, all kinds of sensations of this sort referring back to one's body, such as one feels and is meant to feel in front of, say, a Michelangelo'.
(he later compares these sensations specifically to the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia)
Equally, in an essay on Richard Serra's Weight and Measure installation at the Tate Gallery in 1992, Sylvester compares encountering one of the two steel blocks with 'dancing with an unfamiliar partner who isn't ridiculously taller or shorter than yourself', before adding:
'I imagine that the short and the tall cannot respond to this work as others do: this applies to a lot of minimal art, the impact of which is so often bound up with its height in relation to ours'.
Or again in his 1999 interview with Rachel Whiteread:
DS: Do you have problems deciding the size of the works? Of course, if you are doing a bath, a mattress, or a house, it's given.
RW: Exactly. I don't think I have ever made anything that hasn't been related to my own physicality, my scale.
(Whiteread continues to talk about the 'human scale' in her Water Tower in New York).
I was just wondering how this related to Sylvester's writing on Moore, for instance, and it occurred to me that this sensitivity to scale was what he found lacking in many of Moore's larger works. This is from a 1996 text on de Kooning:
'When Henry Moore, reacting very positively to de Kooning's first sculptures- the thirteen hand-sized pieces that the artist made in 1969- suggested that some of the m could be enlarged to a monumental size, the advice was of course flattering. But it might have given de Kooning pause, because Moore's enlargements of his own work were notorious for the fallibility of his judgment as to how big they could afford to be. He often went too far, so that the result looks overblown; there is a certain tendency for his maquettes, made with his own hands as he worked alone in a small studio, to be more alive, more poetic, more compelling, than the big sculptures that came out of them.'
Sylvester was far from unusual in his belief that bigger wasn't always better in Moore's work, but whereas many objected to him relying upon big public commissions, particularly from the US, or selling his sculptures in various sizes, this wasn't Sylvester's objection. Indeed in his 1968 monograph on Moore, he gives Locking Piece as an example of 'one of the few images Moore has realized in both medium-size and large versions which works about equally well as both'. The issue was how far Moore had drifted from his 1937 statement that 'there is a right physical size for every idea'. In the 1960s, by which time Moore had completed some of his best-known public works, Minimalist artists such as Morris retained the sensitivity to scale which he thought Moore had lost. Not only did Sylvester interview Morris at the same time that he was organising Moore's 1968 Tate exhibition, he was already planning for the Morris exhibition which was to take place at the Tate in 1971 (although Sylvester ended feeling that his plans for an elegant retrospective of Morris' Minimalist works had been sabotaged by the participatory installation that Morris favoured.
What I like about Sylvester's writing on Moore, which can be followed from the early 1940s up to the 1990s, is how most of Sylvester's changing interests can be glimpsed in it somewhere. The 1968 catalogue is the best example of this- apart from the artists mentioned in the text, it seems clear to me that the text shows Sylvester thinking about Moore in relation to Minimalism, Oldenburg (in the 'Hard and Soft' section) and others.