Review – Anthony Gormley – The Hayward

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Saturday morning we set out at 11:30 to see the exhibit in Notting Hill I’d read about in the paper a few weeks ago, but were quickly turned back by a call from the curator letting us know we’d missed our entry slot and would not be allowed in (drat). So we made a quick u-turn and headed to the train station and the quick shot to Waterloo and the Hayward, where there’s an exhibit up by Antony Gormley. You know the one: the ads have this sort of foggy room pictured on them, and the bizarre statues that are on top of the buildings nearby are a part of it.

Well. The good bit: the foggy room was really cool. Two steps in and you can’t see the door anymore; inside the walls, the space seems infinite. You can tell other people are there by their voices, but you can’t see them (much less your feet) until they are within a foot of you. Basically you see a dark area, and then it has color, and then it resolves into someone saying, “Excuse me” as they’ve almost run into you.

and I had a great time in this part of the exhibit. Two steps back and he’d disappear, then I’d tiptoe away, giggling, and see if I could sneak up on him. On my own, I tried to see if I was managing to go in the direction I thought I was (is this the south wall? the north wall?). At one point, we were playing Marco Polo, which was making me laugh and laugh. We had lots of fun.

The rest of the exhibit was … let’s start by saying odd. There were all of these casts of his body, some of them sort of stapled to walls, other hanging from the ceiling upside down by iron cables. Then there were sort of these negative casts of his body, but set up so they were cages with an open space where the body would have been, like African fetishes, or a reverse iron maiden. To be honest, they all looked a little pervy somehow, like giant bondage toys – suspension bondage mummy cases and giant mesh prisons in which a body could only find one way to contort itself.

But the more I looked at these things, the more I thought they were some of the most pretentious, egotistical twaddle I have seen in twenty five years of looking at modern art. Gormley’s exhibit, at its heart, is about ME me ME me ME ME ME, my body, my nose, my butt, me in a ball, me standing up, me stapled to the wall, me standing outside, ME ME ME. It really got aggravating when I realized that it was simply impossible to see it as being a generalized human form as there was not a single female figure represented in the entire exhibit. No, really, I might as well have been looking at casts of Antony’s penis, because his self-obsession was so utterly and puerilely focused on his own magic self. I would have found it so much more honest if it had really been a bunch of SM toys and not such an altar to his own vanity.

But wait! There were other people represented in the exhibit, in the work called “Allotment II.” The exhibition pamphlet said of it, “The individual units that congregate to form Allotment are derived from the vital statistics of real people aged between 18 months and 80 years. Besides the height and widgh of their bodies, thirteen other precise measurements were taken from each of the 300 volunteers.” And what did he get out of these? Little cement blocks. Yep, that’s right, Antony Gormley is represented by anatomically correct body casts; the rest of us, in his art, are little faceless rectangular blocks of cement, with holes for our eyes and mouth. It was really pathetic.

I left in a hurry to escape from the pretension and return to the world of people and light, where the sun was shining and people from a hundred different cities were walking down the banks of the river and beer and friendship and laughter were waiting for me. We went to the Borough Market, bought venison sandwiches and a delicious slab of cheese (and nice cider), had a sit down at The Rake, then trotted off to Walthamstowe and the lovely company of . We napped, we ate, we drank, we enjoyed a walk in the forest and sunset in the garden, we played Cartagena (I’ve apparently lost a pirate), we laughed a lot, we pondered the great mystery of Relationships then had more wine. It was great, one hundred percent Live Life Now, and a wonderful antidote to the art exhibit as well as the rest of the week. Rah!

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