Antony Gormley, Vessel, 2012

Antony Gormley

Vessel, 2012

Cor-Ten steel, M16, countersunk steel screws

370 x 2200 x 480 cm


Antony Gormley, Vessel, 2012

Displayed right at the center of the hall of CENTQUATRE-PARIS in the 19th arrondissement, Vessel has caught the sight of every viewer who visits the exhibition “Follia Continua! 25 years of Galleria Continua”.  Designed by the famous British sculptor Antony Gormley, Vessel is made out of 39 interconnecting rectangular steel boxes.  The material Cor-Ten steel, trademarked weathering steel, is a group of steel alloys which were developed to eliminate the need for painting.  The use of this material allows the sculpture to form a stable rust-like appearance after exposed to the weather for several years.

Vessel takes on the form of a gigantic recumbent man, which at first glance, may appear to viewers as a non-aligned work by Donald Judd.  The series of box containers is an architectural structure of parts – the vessels that form a body.  Yet it is in turn presented in a seemingly haphazard way inside the architecture that is made for the scale of man.  Here the spatial definitions and purposes are blurred and unstable.  The idea mediates on the renaissance trope of the city in the form of a man by making a man made in the form of a city.  It provokes questions about the social and inspirational role of sculpture and its potential to provide direct bodily experience.

This falls into the usual practice of the artist who is widely acclaimed for his sculptures, installations and public artworks that investigate the relationship of the human body to space.  Born in London in 1950, Gormley has developed the potential opened up by sculpture since the 1960s through a critical engagement with both his own body and those of others in a way that confronts fundamental questions of where human beings stand in relation to nature and the cosmos.  The artist continually tries to identify the space of art as a place of becoming in which new behaviors, thoughts and feelings can arise.

For the exhibition at Le CENTQUATRE-PARIS, 2015, Antony Gormley has written, “Take this work as the model of a building that invites you to look into its inner spaces.  I am excited to see Vessel exhibited in Paris, especially in the spaces of a former coffin factory where today, intelligent, lively bodies interact with each other.  Vessel will be the biggest body in there.  It has never been seen in a major city, so I hope that here in Paris, its mirroring of the cells of a dense urban environment will make sense.  Buildings in a city connect with and separate from one another.  You cannot inhabit this work but you can peer into it and see these connections and dead-ends modeled.”

The works of Antony Gormley naturally bring us to ponder on the anti-monumentalism (or Counter-monumentalism), a philosophy in art that denies the presence of any imposing, authoritative social force in public spaces.  It rejects the notion of a monument developed from an elitist point of view as an emblem of power, an opposition to monumentalism whereby authorities establish monuments in public spaces to symbolize themselves or their ideology, and influence the historical narrative of the place.  Artists explore the contemporary drive for creating memorials not of men on horses or mermaids in fountains, but for everyday people and tragedies.

By the same token, we could see that Antony Gormley explores the relation of the human body to space and moments in time through his sculptures, installations, and public artworks.  Over the last 25 years, Antony Gormley has revitalized the human image in sculpture through a radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation, using his own body as subject, tool and material.  He used a cast of his own body as their starting point and for his large-scale, outdoor installations such as Angel of the North (1998) and Another Place (1997).  In Event Horizon (2007), which has been shown in London, Rotterdam, and New York, Gormley sited 31 body forms atop rooftops, riverbanks, and sidewalks within the dense urban environment.  In One & Other (2009), a project for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London, he invited members of the public to create their own artwork on top of the plinth for one hour time slots over a period of 100 days.

Other sculptures in Paris at the moment

At the moment, his other two works the Big Spin (2014) and the Big Look (2014) are presented by the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Paris under the Hors les Murs programme of the FIAC 2015.  These works from his BIG series pursue his study of the body and space, whereby the artist questions the body as a site, and space and scale as the principle factors which condition our understanding of our environment. These sculptures disorient the spectator, provoking a process of self-observation.  Their presentation in the Tuileries gardens is a continuity of Antony Gormley’s practice in which each exhibition is considered a site of physical and psychological experimentation.

We would perceive the artist’s works as not in the normal sense of being a representation of the subject.  Rather he is trying to arouse the interest about what the nature of the space a human being inhabits is.  What he tried to show is the space where the body is, instead of what the body itself represents.


Antony Gormley, Big Spin, 2014 under the Hors les Murs programme of the FIAC 2015

Event Horizon in Hong Kong

The project, Event Horizon, is scheduled to be unveiled in Hong Kong on November 19 and will last until May 18, 2016.  Nevertheless, it has already proved provocative during the two years it’s taken to bring the statues to the city.  The statues were meant to have been displayed last year, but Hongkong Land pulled out as main sponsor after a J.P. Morgan employee jumped to his death from the roof of a Hongkong Land property in February 2014.  Some news reports quoted unnamed sources saying that J.P. Morgan was of the view that having Gormley’s life-size statues placed on rooftops would be too much of a reminder of that particular tragedy.

The idea of Event Horizon is to prompt Hong Kong people to pause amid their daily rush and to take a good look at the details of what’s around them.  It aims at actualising the art’s value – its ability to stimulate thoughts that were lost or thoughts that would otherwise not exist at all.  It is true that in a smartphone-obsessed city, the population in Hong Kong rarely takes a look at the details around themselves anymore.  In another sense, the project is also about how human will overcome extreme adversity.  It is very much about the place of individuals against forces that are faceless determiners of our lives.  The decision to display the statues in the central business district may not be to everyone’s taste, since the area smacks of exclusivity and may reinforce the link between art and the market.  That said, it is certainly a sound demonstration of the challenge of stereotypical views and unexamined values.

Official website of Event Horizon Hong Kong :


Follia Continua! 25 years of Galleria Continua


26th September to 22nd November 2015


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Fragonard in Love (Fragonard Amoureux) – an exhibition more than just “Erotic”

The Musée du Luxembourg seduces us once again with a new exhibition “Fragonard Amoureux”, an exhibition which revisits the works of Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) who is considered one of the major figures in French painting during the 18th century or the last decades of the Ancien Régime.

Considered a painter of frivolities, Fragonard also excelled in the fields of historical, genre and landscape painting.  But he is most identified with the erotic genre and was popular with the courts of Louis XV and Louis XVI for his delicately pastel colored scenes of seduction, love and hedonism.   Fragonard often painted scenes of gallantry and debauchery, exploring in this manner the various aspects of sensuality and sentiment.

He left behind several exemplary masterpieces: L’Inspiration (a self-portrait), The Lock, Young Girl Reading, La chemise enlevée (The Shirt Removed), The Stolen Kiss and The Swing, to name just a few.  One of his chief works “Les progrès de l’amour dans le cœur d’une jeune fille,” was commissioned by Madame du Barry, Mistress of Louis XV for her chateau at Louveciennes.  Once being gallant, libertine, and concerned with new love ethics, his art had a great influence to the art scene in the half of the century to follow.

The exhibition is divided into different sections under the themes: “The Gallant Shepherd”, “The Loves of Gods”, “Rustic and Popular Eros”, “Fragonard, Illustrator of Libertine Tales”, “Pierre-Antoine Baudouin, A Libertinist Master”, “Fragonard and Licentious Imagery”, “Dangerous Reading”, “The Revival of the Fête Galante”, “Love Moralised”, “Heroic Passion” and “Romantic Allegory”.  All these together conveyed the theme of love and romance.

Erotic?  But what else?

A lot of comments of this exhibition revolve around the word “erotic”.  Without doubt, Fragonard’s scenes were pretty scandalous in his era, more or less pornographic.  Some of the content of his paintings and drawings remains shocking even in the society today.  The artist has once declared “I paint with my ass”. ( “je peindrais avec mon cul”)

But other than focusing on this “erotic” aspect, what else could we take away from this exhibition?

A lesson on the mythological love stories

Love is omnipresent in the works of Fragonard.  The exhibition offers a chance for us to revisit the questions of love during the development of time, from the “Grand Siècle” to the Regency.  The concept of gallantry represented one of the values of French identity in the 18th century.  Between 1740 and 1750, the mythological fables of Antiquity illustrated by François Boucher and his disciples became the symbol of a frivolous, even licentious, form of painting.  Since Regency (1715-1723), libertinism had triumphed among the elite by adopting the forms and civilized veneer of gallantry, while in actual fact being a hedonistic quest for carnal pleasure that was completely detached from romantic sentiment.  It was under this influence that Fragonard was trained.  The walk-through of this exhibition is indeed a good opportunity to get a grasp of the mythological love stories during these eras.

 A revisit of the fable of La Fontaine

People having studied the literature or culture of France would have certainly come across the fables of Jean de la Fontaine.  The 18th century represented the glory days of the illustrated books.  The publishing of La Fontaine’s Contes (Tales), which were considered one of the main sources of all libertine literature of the 18th century, was a real triumph at that time.  Fragonard studied the illustrations of the Contes at the end of his stay in Rome and during the 1760s, and has dedicated several series of drawings on this.  The largest album making up of fifty-seven pages and conserved at the Petit Palais is displayed in this exhibition.  What is more encouraging is that the album is accessible online at, under the section “Étudiants et chercheurs”.

From a different perspective, perhaps we can perceive the works of Fragonard as his frank expression of emotion, where courting lead to sensual encounters.  By going through section to section of the exhibition, our mind travel from the last flames of gallant love and the triumph of libertinism, to the blossoming of a more sincere, sensitive and already “romantic” version of love.

(The exhibition is held from 16th September 2015 – 24 January 2016 at Musée du Luxembourg)


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