Sean Kelly Gallery
For some 30 years, Antony Gormley, one of Britain s most respected sculptors, has found new ways of devising the figure. His first solo exhibition in America since 1991 brought together the various concerns with representation that have been at the heart of his creativity for a long time. There is something magical, nearly alchemical, in the way Gormley builds the figure and its aura from cubes and bars of steel, pushing the idiom of the figure in the direction of intellectualized, partially abstract models of the human body and further into the realm of surrounding space.
Even before entering the gallery, viewers were given the chance to see Gormley in action; Domain XLI (2004) stood above the entrance to the building like a sentinel, its tall form built of stainless steel bars a few inches in length. The open, airy quality of the sculpture was intensified by views of the sky glimpsed through its modular lengths of steel. lt was nearly a phantom of a person, albeit one whose depth, width, and height clearly suggested the volume of a human figure. Up close, the steel matrix breaks down into abstraction; distance is needed to see the human outline. Looking up at Domain Xll viewers were given the chance to acclimate to Gormley’s visionary language, a brilliant combination of the figurative and the abstract. On entering the gallery, visitors first saw Capacitor I I (2002), nearly identical Io Domain XLl in height, steel rods emanating from the body form and creating a dense halo of linear extensions. The rods push out in every direction, highlighting the densely built figurative shape. The sculpture grows airier as the pieces move away from the body into the space surrounding it; Domain XLI explores the relation of the body to space in a language that articulates both extremely well.
Gormley’s works create unique links between their overall gestalt and component parts: the small pieces that build up his bodies have spatial interest in their own right. Nowhere is this remarkable tension more evident than in two pieces composed of steel blocks. Habitat (2005) was placed on the floor and against a wall; in the other work, Suspension (2005), a human-like form hung upside down from the ceiling. While both sculptures are generally figurative, Habitat also looks like the model of a small city, its elements suggesting a crowded urban area as well as a person lying on the ground. ln Suspension the upside-down figure’s arms extend outward, at a right angle to the head and the body; despite the abstract feeling of the individual blocks, the sense of a person is marvelously articulated. Gormley works the relationship between elemental form and overall shape with unusual formal intelligence.
It is possible to call Clearing (2005), in which some five kilometers of arcing metal rods create linear ellipses, an abstract sculpture; however, the way that it engages viewers, drawing them into a mass of oval steel lines, suggests that the figurative element is found in the audience moving into the space created by the forms. As Gormley suggests in his metal-block sculptures, he intimates here that the body is a site whose meaningfulness extends into the interaction between a person’s physical self and the three-dimensional metaphor of his art. ln Clearing, the metal ovals bunch up together-indeed, they took over the entire space of the gallery, so that visitors were forced to walk through the open ovals in their attempt to penetrate the space created by them. This was a powerful work in a show remarkable for its sense of elegant space, radiating from sculptures and enveloping viewers in genuinely new ways.