March 27th, 2010

Sculpture for our times

The Anchoress ponders a new sculpture by Antony Gormley called “Event Horizon,” which has appeared as street art in New York City. It features:

…a naked fiberglass-and-metal naked man at random spots in the city.

From March 26 to August 15, New Yorkers will be encountering this form—made from body casts of the artist—amid their daily meanderings. As morning fog lifts, his eerie-but-beautiful silhouette will be visible. Those texting as they walk may bang into him. Visually tracking a pigeon in flight, he’ll be encountered on a rooftop.

The Anchoress is a contemplative sort, and she muses on the different meanings the viewer might project onto the sculpture:

Some will find reassurance in it: as if appearance of eerie, random naked men are exactly suited to the day, when it seems anything at all can happen.

Some will see these forms and think, “angels watching.” Or even, “herald angels.” And feel reassured.

The paranoid will see them and think: big brother. He’s everywhere and he’s watching.

Some believers will see an advance team: harbingers of the Second Coming.

The race-fixated will see a statement about the melding of melanin in humanity.

The cynics will think: humanity has become form without purpose.

Good art provokes and gets you thinking, and I believe Gormley’s exhibit is going to shake to wakefulness a city that has lately been lulled into a sort of drugged slumber: Here is man, in your midst: what does he mean to you?

I’m not sure what I’d see in this installment of the “eerie, random, naked” man on the roof if I saw it in person:


But what comes to my mind from the photo is a classical reference (hey, I’m funny that way) from my studies of art history: the Kouros figure, an ancient form of early Greek art. Here’s a typical one (there isn’t all that much variation within the genre):


So to me the reference is to the muted (and perhaps dying—Kouros figures were often used in funerary art) influence of classical thought and art in our lives.

Or perhaps to their revival. Who knows what the future has in store?

One of my favorite pieces of New York street sculpture (technically, two) was by Julian Opie, and it (they) appeared in downtown Manhattan at Chambers Street, on the steps of the old Tweed Courthouse (named, by the way, for the famously corrupt Boss Tweed). When I saw it in person, my reaction was wondrous delight:

The work was installed in October of 2004 and visible for only a year; so alas, if you go there looking for it now you will no longer see it. Not everyone liked it at the time. Most of the people interviewed for this article were of the opinion that it was eerie and strange. To me, though, it was magical, and transmitted the idea of movement rather than stasis, activity rather than watchful waiting, playfulness rather than solemnity, light rather than dark. Your mileage may differ.

14 Responses to “Sculpture for our times”

  1. Tatyana Says:

    Yes, perception is different.

    If I saw that naked silhouette on a roof i’d think of a guy ready to jump down.
    But if I saw it 2-3 years ago, I might not have paid attention at all, in that typical NY “seen this, move on” attitude of hurried indifference.

  2. Tatyana Says:

    it should have been
    “perception is what makes the message of art different”.

  3. betsybounds Says:

    LOL! Well, I agree that it’s engaging and even lovely in a certain way.

    But it also put me in mind of a couple of men at the gym on a pair of slo-mo treadmills. Or maybe a couple of stress-testers–whose mileage would, of course, differ!

  4. SteveH Says:

    First thing that comes to mind is how art and healthcare are getting foisted on us in a provocative manner.

    Plus i wonder what keeps these figures from being stolen.

  5. The Anchoress | A First Things Blog Says:

    […] Neoneocon has more thoughts […]

  6. Don Janousek Says:

    Steve Allen invented a word that fits this – “dumbth.”

  7. Nolanimrod Says:

    When I saw the figure my first thought was Klatu! Barada nikto. Maybe I should go find some meds.

  8. Cappy Says:

    Guys used to have a version of that. It was called Hustler and came out in print form.

  9. Le Trebuchet Says:

    “Some will see these forms and think, “angels watching.” Or even, “herald angels.” And feel reassured”
    And kids with paint ball guns will think “Target!!!”

  10. Tom Says:

    The premise that “Good art provokes and gets you thinking” is just tiny steps removed from Alinskyite agitation. Putting what is loosely termed ‘art’ where it does not belong symbolizes a loss of private property, an intrusion on both physical and mental space, thus a violation of privacy. This is art as visual violence, just like graffiti sprayed on property not owned by the ‘artists’.

  11. Trimegistus Says:

    Dumbest line from a whole passel of artistic dumbth:

    “Some believers will see an advance team: harbingers of the Second Coming.”

    — Because, I guess, those dumb Christians don’t know what a statue is, so if they see one they’ll go apeshit. “Git mah shotgun, Daisy Mae! It’s tha Rapture!”

    Believers will look at these statues and think, “Why the f*** is there a statue here?” just like every other New Yorker.

  12. Scott Says:

    I used to work in lower Manhattan. I remember one of the fist times I went to Liberty Plaza on my lunch hour, I bought an ice cream from an ice cream truck and sat down on a park bench to be entertained by a talented street magician. I glanced over to a nearby bench and noticed a life sized bronze statue of a businessman “sitting” on the bench peering into his briefcase (it’s titled Double Check). I remember thinking what a perfect setting for that statue: a couple of blocks from the stock exchange in the heart of the financial district where tons of business is conducted every day.

    I lived on the upper east side at the time. When I walked over to Central Park, I walked past a hideous Botero sculpture of a “fat cat”. Just as Double Check was in the perfect setting, the Botero seemed perfectly out of place.

    What a city.

  13. Tatyana Says:

    Neo, I saw this in BBC ticker; huh, I absorbed this city’s outlook all too well…

  14. Royce Mckenize Says:

    Hi there!, Very interesting angle, we were talking about the same thing at work and found your site very stimulating. So simply had to com-ment an enormous thank you for all of your effort. Please keep up the good work your doing!

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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