BY: MATT JACOBS
Antony Gormley has established himself as one of today’s most prolific artists. While his work has received much critical acclaim, U.S audiences have often been left with glossy images from exhibition catalogues, online J-pegs, or perhaps been lucky enough to catch a fleeting show at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. The British artist’s public works (some of his best) haven’t made it to U.S. soil. That is until now. Gormley’s installation, Event Horizon is part of the MAD. SQ. ART program, which also featured a large installation by Jessica Stockholder earlier this year. Event Horizon consists of thirty-one identical iron and fiberglass sculptures cast after the artists’ body. Several of the figures are located in and around the park’s pathways; the rest are perched on the edges of rooftops in the surrounding Flatiron district. First installed along the South Bank in London, Gormley has adapted Event Horizon to fit the iconic skyline of New York City.
The process of seeing Event Horizon is one of discovery, curiosity, suspicion, and ultimate uncertainty. There are no plaques, descriptions, or wall tags to help viewers resolve what it is they are seeing. In this sense, Gormley has created a truly integrated public work. Without didactic assistance about the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of his installation, Gormley’s figures simply exist in the environment, as if they were there all along. After all, they are human figures placed in a landscape densely and perpetually packed with people. At first, the figures are easily dismissible, until you happen upon another pedestrian pointing up in typical it’s-a-bird!-it’s-a-plane! fashion exclaiming, “There’s another one!” This playful introduction to Event Horizon takes on the guise of a kind of sculptural Easter egg hunt. This brief relationship formed between strangers joined in a mutual search is a central theme in Event Horizon. Through simple minimal tactics of repetition, Gormley breaks down social boundaries in a city infamous for it’s cold shoulders. Once you’ve noticed one of Gormley’s figures the game is on. Another figure quickly comes into view, then another, and another. As one realizes just how many of these figures surround them, the mood of the piece shifts from playful to suspicious. What are these things? Why are there so many of them? What are they doing here? With their omnipresence and confident posture, the figures seem to have an agenda.
Approaching Madison Square Park, visitors get their first up-close glance of the figures as several of them wait patiently at the entrances to the park. The life-sized iron figures, seasoned with a beautiful patina of rust, and a poised open armed stance are at once filled with personality and ambiguity. Like many of Gormley’s figures, the major features have been smoothed over as if they were left out in the rain. The effect is one of haunting familiarity. His figures are stoic, confident, and focused. Totally prepared. But for what exactly? To be viewed? Criticized? Ignored? Vandalized? Whatever the case, they are powerful sculptures that transcend the hands-off, high art objects that occupy many nearby galleries. The figures are more human, and therefore accessible to a variety of visitors. Event Horizon serves as an instrument of confrontation between a landscape and it’s inhabitants.
Looking up Fifth Avenue, perhaps the largest span of Event Horizon, figures can be seen at ground level across the street and on rooftops reaching all the way to the Empire State Building (yes, there’s one there too). Seeing the figures from this perspective, Event Horizon becomes an exercise in linear perspective and an illustration of human perception. Complemented by New York’s rigid geometric architecture, viewers are reminded of how objects appear smaller the further they are to a fixed vanishing point. While following Event Horizon around the park and trying to resolve the scale of the figures in relation to that of the surrounding architecture, it becomes difficult, if not impossible to determine the scale of the work itself. Where does the piece being or end? How many figures are there? Where will they pop up next? Gormley’s work offers no explanations or resolutions to these questions. Viewers are simply left to make their own sense of why these figures have suddenly arrived. In a time where digital communication has surpassed person-to-person exchange, Event Horizon asks us to consider what it means to be a singular person in the global community today, or more specifically, what it means to be an individual in the thriving metropolis that is New York City.
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