Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Spread across the top step of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was an installation that further perpetuated my fascination with the work of Antony Gormley. What from a distance seemed like just a collection of cubes became surprisingly figurative as i began to interact with them. Each collection of shapes slowly revealed a different pose, features that individualized the sculptures and gave them all their own character. The individualism of the sculptures served the installation as a whole because it allowed new things to be revealed by every character. Standing on one end of the installation, the closest figure can really reveal itself but since each piece has new things to offer the viewer will work their way down, scanning figure after figure from a distance until they understand what each figure is doing or saying in hopes of understanding the collection. Gormley gives the viewer just enough information that they’ll want to get up close and personal with each and every 8-10 ft. character. He pulls them in and out, back and forth through his installation as they try to piece together what isn’t actually there.
Gormley’s figurative sculpture is a collection of masterful plays and depictions of the human form. Sometimes mind numbingly subtle, sometimes anything but, he plays with the forms that make up his sculptures and alters the level of information that they give you. In some cases when you see his work from across the room or in a small photo you can see a human figure clear as day, but as you approach it or enlarge the photo the form we thought we understood fades away into a collection of lines or shapes. Other times he does the exact opposite and, like in the PMA install, he gives you a collection of shapes that from a distance seem like nothing but as you approach them a subtle form starts to reveal itself.
Gormley’s work, in my opinion, is deeply rooted in understanding how line and shape interact in space, what the human brain wants to understand of information, and how those two entities can interact and combat with one another. What I mean by this is that Gormley understands how the objects or forms that he’s working with play off of one another, how things like cubes of varying sizes will interact and come together to create an overall form. But, in making that overall form, he knows that there will never be one perception and instead the human brain will adjust and alter its understanding of the form depending on factors like viewing angle and distance. This allows Gormley to phrase information more clearly by doing things like using more lines or smaller shapes to more definitively create an image, but he can also phrase information more subtly by doing the opposite and using less lines or larger shapes to structure an image that may only be clear at one specific angle or distance. Taking the nuances of his work one step further, he often displays his sculptures in groups so just when you figure out one form, you realize there’s another and by the time you figure out that one, there’s another or, even more frustrating, the form that you thought you understood has fallen apart because of your new viewing angle.
Antony Gormley’s ability to play with our perceptions and force us to work back and forth through an installation just to understand what we’re looking at is truly amazing. The idea of constructing an image with a collection of lines or shapes has always fascinated me and Gormley is one of the best at messing with our perceptions. It’s really crazy what the human brain will see based off of the information it’s given, it yearns to see something that it understands.