Breathing Room II is Gormley’s fourth exhibition with Sean Kelly, comprising five works. Four are increasingly abstracted sculptures based on the body. Cast features small steel rectangles, arranged to suggest a life-sized body. The steel has oxidized giving the work a timeless air, it is neither old nor new, only current. The work recalls Fritz Lang’s Metropolis robots, reclaimed in steel. However, whilst Lang’s robots indicate that all is not right in the world, Gormley’s simplified rendering is a more optimistic display of our universal qualities. The other three works are less successful; works such as Proposal, a series of hollow black-painted steel rectangles echo the work of the Grandfather of minimalism, Sol Lewitt, but leave the viewer nonplussed, as the inspiration behind the work is not clear. Gormley is famously preoccupied with the body and the architectural possibilities therein, but in this instance no trace of the body remains, the message is lost and thus the end result is that the work looks like what it is and nothing more.
The final work - the eponymous Breathing Room II, is undoubtedly the draw. To see it, the viewer must walk into a darkened corridor with tight-angled corners that block out the light; after a cautious approach the corridor opens out into what feels like a large, dark room, completely pitch-dark apart from long, glow-in-the-dark forms that become more apparent as your eyes adjust to the light. Gradually, whilst neatly dodging other strangers engaged in the same task, five overlapping rectangles become clear. It looks like an exploded diagram; three-dimensional people are in an exploded two-dimensional diagram. Unlike the sculptures in the other room that demonstrate the body in architectural language, our bodies are now within architecture. Whilst wrapping my head around the installation and gaping at the fun of the project (glow-in-the dark!), the lights come on. It’s embarrassing. Strangers start back from each other, having accidentally orbited closer than usual. Fifteen long minutes of light follow, to recharge the glowing lines of our rectangles before we are again plunged into the comforting darkness to witness the lines emerging slowly, evolving into their brilliant state.
Breathing Room II, adeptly timed to coincide with the Event Horizon fun at Madison Park will be popular and populated. Gormley’s genius lies in his pitching. His work betrays tremendous thought and preparation on his given themes of the body and its architectural possibilities, however it never feels contrived or too remote from our human experiences. (There I said it!) Some critics bemoan his simplicity but they are missing the point. Flawed but engaging and never pretentious, Gormley’s twin exhibitions accurately convey his interests and leave the viewer wanting more.
“Breathing Room II” runs through May 1st
Sean Kelly Gallery
528 West 29th Street
Take the C or the E train to 23rd Street and/or the M23 bus to 23rd Street and 11th Avenue
Gallery Hours: Tues-Sat, 10-6pm
Gallery Website: www.skny.com
Artist website: www.antonygormley.com