Critics’ Picks

Antony Gormley, 20th Blood Field I, 2021, blood on paper, 7 1/2 x 5 1/2".

Antony Gormley, 20th Blood Field I, 2021, blood on paper, 7 1/2 x 5 1/2".


“SENSE: Beuys / Gormley: A conversation through drawing”

Thaddaeus Ropac | London
37 Dover Street Ely House
January 19–March 22, 2023

Accompanying Thaddaeus Ropac’s expansive solo exhibition of Joseph Beuys is a second, smaller show curated by Antony Gormley that places works by both artists in dialogue. Unsurprisingly, Gormley’s selections from Beuys mostly feature references to the human body. In some cases, these references are rather oblique, as in “part A” of a group of pencil drawings entitled Bewegung Rhythmus (Movement Rhythm), 1962, in which a dismembered arm hovers near a barely articulated crotch. In other instances, they are more emphatic, as in the descriptively titled piece in pencil, watercolor, gouache, and iron chloride Zwei Frauen (Two Women), 1955, the silhouettes of whose titular female figures bear a distinct sense of intimacy in spite of their inchoateness.

What is most striking about Beuys’s drawing across both exhibitions is its delicate filigree and aesthetic precision. This should be something of a revelation for those familiar only with the artist’s conceptual work, whether in the form of now mythologized performance or aggressively corporeal installation. Similarly, several of Gormley’s works on paper are pleasantly uncharacteristic. He has chosen nine of his own drawings, spanning four decades. The most recent, 20th Blood Field I and Learning to Think X, both 2021, are composed in blood. There are pieces from the 1980s that are far less grandiloquent. Particularly notable are the drawings in black pigment, linseed oil, and charcoal Woman and Architecture, 1985, and Holding the Heart, 1987. These are aesthetically about as far as it is possible to get from the kind of sculpture with which the artist has become synonymous. Rather than imperiously commanding one’s attention, the human figures in these works appear utterly vulnerable, as if they were about to be crushed under overpowering pressure.