Antony Gormley

A floor-level flood of 40,000 red, yellow, brown, and orange figurines, Field filled the halls and pressed against the walls of the museum, barring one’s entry. A population explosion of metasculptural archetypes, Antony Gormley’s installation challenged many of the West’s sacred assumptions about art—the perpetual refinement of form, the notion that completion realizes intention, and the idea that uniqueness equals value. Whereas critics of Rodin’s era referred to his immortalized Balzac, 1897–98, as a hunk of mud, these sculptures actually are hunks of mud, hollow-eyed terra-cotta figurines measuring from three to nine inches in height charged with the sensual energy ofthe Cholula Valley, in Mexico, where they originated. Field adopts Joseph Beuys’ notion of “creative capital” in a way that is culture-specific and also has global implications. Each of these figures has its own character; each was made by an individual to represent “people not yet born.” Ethereal, metaphysical, even hallucinatory, they evoke a feeling of perpetual re-creation.

When Gormley began to move away from the body-cast lead sculptures that were his trademark in the ’80s, it was largely a response to the cultural genocide occurring in Africa at that time. “I wanted to . . . start with confrontation with the ground, and in that ground to plant possibility. I also wanted to make something that challenged my idea of form—of the refinement of form and how that happens.” Baked in oil-fired kilns in Cholula, and made with the Texca family of brick makers out of locally available materials, these tiny, clumpy archetypes formed a collaborative work realized through a collectivity of creators. While the making of the figures involved production quotas similar to those for making bricks, the process was less standardized, demanding a different response to the material—a tactile and instinctual one, scaled to the human hand. Gradually, each of the workers evolved his or her own simplified variation of the chosen form.

Like another British sculptor of the same generation, Anish Kapoor, Gormley identifies with the human body, sees materials as having their own potential voice, envisions creative expression as a process having less to do with ideation than with physical identification. An Asian quality of spiritual transcendence, already present in works such as Man Asleep, 1985, supplanted the hermeticism of his earlier sculptures whose seam lines and self-containment suggested a mass-production metaphor for their own dualism. Metamorphosing material into metasculptural multiples is nothing new. In the sheer enormity of their numbers these figures recall the thousand bodhisattvas of the medieval temple at Sanjusangendo in Kyoto, as well as the life-size terra-cotta warriors of China’s first emperor in Xian. While Gormley has been criticized for his “exploitation” of Mexican workers, his intent was precisely to refute traditional notions of authorship and completion. By choosing a process that depends on change, Gormley’s Field reflects an esthetics of inclusion rather than exclusion. Perpetuity itself becomes a relative value: the process begets the process.

John K. Grande