Antony Gormley’s Critical Mass

Critical Mass, a sculptural exhibit by Antony Gormley, is the main (well, actually it’s the only!) show at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill (see my posts about that here and here). I’d seen posters in the London Tube advertising the event, and I was really looking forward to seeing it in person.

Antony Gormley is one of the most successful artists in modern England. He often uses casts of his own body, and considers the resulting body to be not just a thing, but a place. This is an important concept in his art, and although it is a cast of his person, his sculptures are not just symbolic. They represent things that happen to all bodies and places.  Angel of the North is one of his most famous works, which I hope to see this weekend when we venture north.

Critical Mass consists of various casts of Gormley’s body in a several different poses, “developing from a low crouching position to squatting, sitting, kneeling and standing – an ascent of man ranging through the complex syntax of the body.”  The work was originally designed to inhabit a huge railway terminal in Austria, and can be seen as a form of Holocaust memorial.  This is a picture I found on the internet that show the earlier interpretation of Critical Mass:

It’s clearly a disturbing image; deep and thought provoking, with clear emotional strength. Which was what I was hoping and expecting to find in Bexhill. But I was disappointed; I think the current installation on the roof of the De La Warr Pavilion is the wrong venue. It was a beautiful, clear, and sunny day. People were out and about eating ice cream and riding scooters. Children could be heard laughing on the beach.  And the casts were displayed, rather than close together, spread out across the roof. The placements appeared quite regimented, almost mathematical. There was no cohesion, no symbolism, nothing. The power that I was expecting completely evaporated in the surroundings.

These are some of my own pictures:

I do think that being able to walk amidst the casts made for a challenging experience. It might not have been too bad if you were alone, but having little children running about, college-age kids jokingly trying to re-create the poses for stunt photographs, and the smells of fish and chips from the cafe just below pulled me out of the experience too far to capture the seriousness of the show.

Apparently the museum had a very hard time installing these casts. They had to bring in a crane and lift them from below; the also had to have structural engineers come in to establish whether the roof could hold the weight!  Unfortunately I have to ask whether it was all really worth it.


Posted on 30/06/2010, in Exploring the UK and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. The statues made me think of the “Garden of the Fugitives” in Pompeii.

    You know, all the casts of the dead people. Brrrr.

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  3. picture is quite nice and interesting source

  4. Hello. My name is Matt Jacobs, I’m an artist and writer living in Kansas City. I just recently started a wordpress blog to show some of my writings I came across your blog on the wordpress homesite. I had to check it out because I had just written a review of an Antony Gormley installation in New York City. How ironic that I should come across your blog after posting my own review to mine!

    I’m sorry you were let down by ‘Critical Mass’. I would agree that the original configuration and location seems like a more powerful experience. The installation in New York was the first I had seen his work in person (though I’ve followed it online and in print for years), and I was blown away. If you’d like to check out my review check out:

    All the best,



  5. Great idea, looks like a yoga lesson, very wonderful!

  6. Quite a neat sight, but worthy of all the pomp and circumstance? hardly. “an ascent of man ranging through the complex syntax of the body” is an almost meaningless sentence

  7. on this post your pictures are the best thing , really good ones …. but camon ! one more work talking about holocaust?!!it sucks … and nobody asked the local poeple if they wanted the Angel of north , all my friends that live there hated the sculpture when it arrived and still do.
    no talking about the huge public money that was used to buy that …..
    you know … everything Gormley does is sterityped . comun , easy and made to please authorutys .
    couldn’t be more mediocre .

  8. I love these! I live in France and was in Nice a few months ago where some similar sculptures adorned the streets. Now I am wondering if it is the same artist…

    • It might be! He just opened a new exhibit in Edinburgh, and it consists of body casts placed between the art museum and the sea — just out there in nature. There is one that is half submerged in a pond, and one standing beneath a bridge….

  9. Interesting – but he could do more to explore these shapes and their conceptual realities in relation to the context of their setting.

    • But if the setting changes, as it has here, how does that affect the work? Is it still the same piece? Or has it become something new?

      • Changing the setting will definitely affect the work. Like you mentioned in your post, The Critical Mass was more thought provoking and emotional in the railway. The clutter of bodies in that railway represent history, a history that will never be forgotten. The rooftop venue was a waste of money and time.

  10. Very interesting!! Deeply moving — your pics are GREAT!! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!

  11. Facinating and odd at the same time…

  12. Very interesting!!

  13. Thanks for the review and for the wonderful photos of the exhibit. When I look at the figures spread out as such it makes me think that there was some sort of blast or catastrophe that caused all those bodies to be strewn about. I think of a nuclear bomb or some type of explosion. I do like the comparison that lostbutf0und made to the figures at Pompeii.

    I didn’t see anyone mention the nodules on the figures or the seems along the edges. It seems intentional that the artists left these and I wonder what he is trying to convey with that. What do you think?

    I normally make prints and drawings, but took a sculpture class a while back where we learned how to make molds and kiln cast glass. I like seeing the seams in these pieces because it provides information as to how they’re made -which is always interesting to me as an artist.

    Noah Overby

    • Hi Noah — I do see the Pompeii comparison, and I think it’s an interesting interpretation. The nodules and seams on the casts were all the same. Perhaps you can explain the process, but I had assumed they were caused during production! The nodules kind of reminded me of the bumps on a piece of Lego — how they all fit together. And there definitely was a “these are all clones from the future” kind of vibe. The nodules and seams made the figures less-than-human. Thanks for commenting!

  14. I saw one of his exhibitions in London a few years ago and it completely changed my opinion of Modern Art (for the better). The exhibition and experience has really stayed with me.
    I see you’ve got a trip to Durham planned – if you can, make a detour to Newcastle and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art which is worth a visit. The building and view from the top (on a clear day) are worth it alone.

    • Thanks! I’ll try to swing by! I totally love modern art, which is why I was so disappointed with this exhibition! Thanks for commenting!

  15. synergythris

    Great story! Lots of work went into this one. I appreciate that. I see so many story with little content. Come check out my story and let know what you think…?

  16. My 4 year old son’s reaction was to state ‘mummy, they look like you doing your stretches’. He then started to imitate the poses (but no stunt photographs!) but was most disappointed that he couldn’t touch when, as he pointed out, ‘the seagulls are allowed to poo all over them’.

    I don’t think they work on the roof – the positioning is wrong, there’s no conversation between the forms and their location. The nature of the ‘event’ inevitably disappoints – the fame of the artist overshadows his art or any meaning it may have in this particular context.

    • Oh, I’m so glad you agree! I love the concept behind this work, but the execution felt wrong, somehow.

  17. Very interesting post! I only know the sculptures of “Another Place” by Antony and really love them but in this case it really doesn’t feel like it could ever work on the roof of this building. You can really feel by watching your pictures that there is no connection of the sculptures and the audience. That’s a pity…

  18. squirrelsloveacorns

    That’s kind of eerie but still very interesting.
    Morbid curiosity right?
    Very interesting read and I thank you for posting it!

  19. hollins090164

    I absolutely agree the two settings provide a completely different experience of the art installation…what I’m not sure about is, was it the artists intention to change the composition of the figures in Bexhill? I’m sure Anthony Gormly was involved in the installationof the figures there and it would be interesting to hear his views on the work and the setting.

  20. Astrid, you’re a very kind person. Yesterday i was in a hurry and , not only spelling everything wrong , i wasn’t clear and a bit rude . Sorry for that.
    This link i am sending to you isn’t exactly what i had in mind, but show at least one aspect of my view about his work:
    if you get an extra time maybe would be nice to read.

    have a nice weekend and all the best.
    Caio Fernandes.

  21. That’s kind of eerie but still very interesting.

  22. Good ideas. Nice photos

  1. Pingback: Antony Gormley’s Critical Mass « Realidad Alternativa

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