A few of Antony Gormley's 31 life-size cast iron and fiberglass nudes have yet to be installed before Friday's official opening of Event Horizon in New York, the much-decorated British sculptor's first public art installation in the United States. But no one told visitors to the site, who have sought out the missing figures since the series first began quietly appearing on walkways in Madison Square Park and on top of surrounding buildings in the Flatiron District.
"The thing that amazed me and made me very encouraged was just seeing those people on the weekend, all clutching their New York Times maps and diligently looking around for non-existent sculptures," said Gormley, over coffee this morning, after an inauguration of Event Horizon with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Debbie Landau (president of Madison Square Park Conservancy, whose Mad. Sq. Art program is presenting the installation) among others. About half of the sculptures had gone up by this past weekend, Gormley said, but nonetheless viewers were "spending hours looking at chimney pots and TV aerials and willing them to be bodies." During the inauguration, attendees and straying passerby could be seen doing the same, craning their necks and pointing out rooftop figures in the mist.
Event Horizon is meant to encourage viewers to "reassess their environment and their position in it," as Gormley puts it, due to the sculptures' interruption of their usual surroundings—London, in its first installation in 2007, and now New York.
"There's very little art in these things," said Gormley of his figures, which he also refers to as "three-dimensional shadows" and "indexes." The sculptures are but copies of his body at a particular time, in various poses. Where the "art" is, then, is in what happens when viewers engage with the figures. "When you then insert these still industrial fossils into the stream of daily life and real context they can begin to be active in the same way that a chemical catalyst ... causes a transformation," Gormley said. "I would like to think that's what happening here."
While the figures are all cast from life, from Gormley's quite tall person-looking upward at some of the elevated nudes, they appear almost alien with their long-legged height-they are meant to be anonymous. On one figure in the middle of the park, the eyelids and mouth are shut, simply and roughly defined, as if the hot iron were smoothed over with a thick brush.
"They invite, I think, a degree of empathy that I think the inscripted memorial statue doesn't," Gormley said, especially interesting when set in a city that has a wealth of commemorative public statuary. The sculptor also said he's noticed a different quality to how engagement happens here, though it's something that he said he can't quite quantify. "I think people are perhaps more conscious of and also in awe of the environment in Manhattan," Gormley said. "I just get the feeling that people... identify with the fabric of New York in a way that Londoners don't."
EVENT HORIZON OPENS FRIDAY IN MADISON SQUARE PARK, NEW YORK. THE INSTALLATION IS ON VIEW THROUGH AUGUST 15. ANTONY GORMLEY, EVENT HORIZON, 2007. PHOTOS BY JAMES EWING. © THE ARTIST. A HAYWARD GALLERY COMMISSION, COURTESY SEAN KELLY GALLERY, NY, AND WHITE CUBE, LONDON. PRESENTED BY MADISON SQUARE PARK CONSERVANCY.