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.