Antony Gormley: Subject review – this art thesis fails the viva
Source:The Guardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2018-05-22 Size:
Antony Gormley floats in space with his eyes fixed on infinity ……

‘What does this mean, exactly?’ … Edge III, by Antony Gormley.Photograph: Oak Taylor-Smith

Antony Gormley floats in space with his eyes fixed on infinity. His arms and legs are straight and relaxed, his posture passive and meditative as he hangs about half a metre above the floor.

Wake up, it’s time for a tutorial. What does this cast-iron replica of your own body bolted to a wall by its feet mean, exactly? I don’t want to hear a lot of vacuous guff about “activating spaces” and “undermining our assurance about the stability of the world”, Gormley. Finals are in a few weeks and you urgently need to clarify your thinking.

It’s actually 47 years since Antony Gormley graduated from Cambridge University. Yet, as he returns to the venerable academic town for a show in its brightly refurbished art gallery Kettle’s Yard, I can’t help thinking he could benefit from a hard professorial grilling.

Co-Ordinate IV and Subject … works by Antony Gormley. Photograph: Benjamin Westoby

Let’s start with the title of his exhibition. It’s called Subject. Presumably this is meant to suggest subjectivity, subjecthood – the condition of being a conscious person. Yet what is gained by putting it in such a pseudo-philosophical way? That same self-conscious intellectualism pervades the entire display. The trouble is, Gormley has not thought through his ideas properly. They dangle in his art unresolved, undigested, like half-read books.

Subject is not only the title of the show but also of a new sculpture that stands as if looking out of a tall narrow window onto the streets of Cambridge. It is a lifesized human figure made from lots of short straight steel bars. The effect is like seeing a drawing in space, made of many intercrossed straight lines. Looking at it against the sunlight, there seems to be a more specific art historical allusion. For this grid of intercrossed metal bars resembles Piet Mondrian’s early abstract paintings, in which a view of a pier against an ocean becomes an ethereal pattern of right-angled lines. Gormley has turned Mondrian’s Pier and Ocean paintings into a human figure.

Slip I by Antony Gormley. Photograph: Stephen White, London

Following this train of thought helps to understand what he thinks he’s doing in the rest of the show. For apart from two humanoid figures, each of which gets a gallery to itself, the main intervention Gormley has made on the ground floor of Kettle’s Yard is to suspend two long straight steel rods through the entire space, connecting different rooms and crossing each other at right angles. Once you’ve clocked the Mondrian theme, it is easy to see these thin taut bars as a sculptural version of the black lines that map out infinite abstract grids in the great Dutch artist’s visionary paintings.

This is where I wish Gormley’s old tutors would haunt him with some tough questions. Such as – why is this a useful exercise? What does it mean? And can’t you see how silly it all looks?

The grids that are ethereal and tantalising in Mondrian’s paintings become clunking, uninspired and earthbound when they are translated into steel. Gormley seems to wish he was an abstract artist, yet his imagination is clod-hoppingly figurative. He reduces the mathematical otherworld of Mondrian’s art to a thumpingly banal image of the human form. The empty space that surrounds his statue-by-numbers is not profoundly animated and transformed by the presence of his art. It is just dead space. The steel lines passing though it are about as magical as telephone wires.

Infinite Cube II, artwork by Antony Gormley. Photograph: Benjamin Westoby

Upstairs, a small dark room is lit by Infinite Cube II, in which he leaves the body behind, at last, and dives into pure abstraction. A squared glass box contains an optical illusion that makes small bright lights appear to recede forever. It’s by far the most visually rewarding work here. The echoing traces of light vanish into the ether. From all angles, the effect is dazzling. In memory, though, it quickly fades because it doesn’t have an emotional impact. It is like a brilliantly seamless digital effect in a Marvel film – amazing, but no one’s going to lose any sleep over it. Perhaps this is the future of art – a weightless, meaningless light shining in your face.

Now, look here, young Gormley, some of this is very impressive but you will not progress until you get to grips with the difficulty and honesty of true art. What’s that you say? You’re 67 years old, a Turner prize winner, one of the most famous artists in the world? For God’s sake, someone pour me a sherry.

[Editor] 姜鑫

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