Magazine article The Spectator

Gormley Spotting

Magazine article The Spectator

Gormley Spotting

Article excerpt

Antony Gormley: Blind Light Hayward Gallery, until 19 August Sponsored by Eversheds LLP

Poets in the Landscape: The Romantic Spirit in British Art Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 10 June

I have been dipping into the Modern Sculpture Reader, edited by Jon Wood, David Hulks and Alex Potts, an invaluable compilation of texts produced by the Henry Moore Institute at £20. It's a hefty paperback tome determined to give sculpture its rightful place in the anthology stakes -- so often dominated by painting -- and in doing so it tracks the nature and status of the art object in the modern world. It ranges from Adolf von Hildebrand writing in 1893 on the problem of form, to Susan Hiller in 2003 discussing the sculptural legacy of H. Moore himself.

In between it stops at many stations from Rilke to Acconci, by way of Eric Gill, Michel Leiris, Tatlin, Gabo and Sartre. It's not a book to sit down and read, but to look things up in and then go away and ponder, a source and an inspiration.

Regrettably, it's not an easy volume to handle. It's too small and compact for a lectern, too heavy to hold and read. It's really a table book, designed for study.

Listen to the section-headings: '19th-century inheritance', 'Modernism and anti-modernism', 'The new sculpture and the antisculptural', 'Post-modernity and the negation and persistence of the sculptural'. Does it sound as if the object is in any way beleaguered? That it might be sinking under an overabundant ballast of theory? Well, many believe that this is the preponderant evil of our times: the desire to control and categorise and analyse, even at the risk of stultifying the very thing honoured (and assaulted) with such overzealous attention. A useful corrective in the sculpture debate remains the painter Ad Reinhardt's famous definition of sculpture: 'something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting'.

There's plenty to bump into at the Hayward, where Antony Gormley (born 1950) has been given the freedom of the building and the adjacent skyline.

Revealingly, there's not a single mention of him in the index of the Modern Sculpture Reader. Does this mean his work is too traditional to feature in contemporary debate? It's certainly popular, and this recipient of generous Arts Council funding and endless tours of his work is an all-toofamiliar figure on the national scene. Does he need more exposure? Commissioning Gormley to stick some of his body casts about the place is not exactly a radical move. It might, on the other hand, entertain the public briefly, and this consideration is now very high on the agenda of such box-office-dominated institutions as the Hayward Gallery.

The male figure is at the centre of Gormley's art (his gigantic 'Angel of the North' is the best-known example), and some 30 casts of himself standing have been placed on top of buildings around the Hayward. They may be viewed from the gallery's three roof terraces, and much harmless fun will no doubt be had by visitors going Gormley-spotting this summer.

The sculptures are not popular with the police authorities, since they too closely resemble potential suicides or terrorists, but the real threat is that they might be allowed to remain in place after the exhibition, cluttering up the skyline. Let us fervently hope not. A little of Gormley goes a long way, and the exhibits inside the Hayward are actually more interesting.

There's a 27-ton steel 'Space Station', like something out of a Star Trek movie, a lighted glass box full of mist produced by 100 per cent humidity into which the visitor is encouraged to blunder, and a labyrinth of concrete plinths to squeeze between. …

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