contemporary, public art, sculpture

Antony Gormley, Critical Mass (1995-2010)

July 30, 2010

Fifteen years after its inception, Antony Gormley has revived the piece Critical Mass for the roof of De La Warr Pavilion. Since then his life-size casts of the human form have conquered London, New York and even Crosby Beach near Liverpool. They are contemporary icons.

An inestimable number of people have seen these works first hand. So it must be said Gormley has created the most immediate, visible art of the age. The Angel of the North, his vast monumental sculpture outside Newcastle, surely puts that beyond doubt.

Now 60 of his trademark figures are scattered on a modernist rooftop by the sea in Bexhill. And their message is surely a vital one. These bodies, arranged in 12 different positions, none which look comfortable, are after all a sign of the times.

If they tell us anything then, it seems humankind is, whatever the pose, all the same. They are solid, gloomy replicas of each other and indeed of Gormley himself. They are featureless and archetypal, by implication any one of them could be any one of us.

But this vision of bland conformity to be resisted. “Tout autre est tout autre,” as Jacques Derrida once put it: every other is completely other. In the visitor notes, Gormley describes his work as a deconstruction of the body, so it seemed worth quoting the man who coined the term.

And the one person modelled again, and again, happens to be a fit, adult, caucasian male. The artist has missed a chance to create a new Vetruvian man (or woman). That really would be deconstructive.

Critical Mass is at De La Warr Pavilion until the end of August.

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