Acclaimed British contemporary sculptor Antony Gormley is displaying an array of new and old works at an immersive exhibition in the heart of Tuscany in and around Galleria Continua in the town of San Gimignano until 20 August. Entitled Vessel, it will include a major new work of the same name which Gormley has specifically conceived for the former theatre and cinema of San Gimignano in an exhibition that marks the start of a rich programme of solo and group shows set to unfold during the remainder of 2012.
Gormley's explorations of body, space and time continue to test environment, form and feeling, often pitting one against the other. This exhibition intends to "interrogate the body through architecture, asserting it as both a model of spatial organisation and subject to gravitational force" thus "articulating the tensions as well as convergences between the human animal and his or her habitat."
In a sequence of twelve new solid iron blockworks, Gormley puts the formal purity of Modernist abstraction to work to evoke and provoke inner states. These works use the language of stacking, propping and cantilevering, and mass, familiar from the work of Richard Serra to objectify the experience of embodiment; to produce a somatic sense of containment or conditioning that exists within urban man.
Blurring the distinctions between content and context, the twelve massive castings are contrasted with the space frames of a new "breathing room". Sited in the empty tower at the north of the Galleria Continua and constructed from seven interconnecting luminous frames all of an equal volume, the work encourages self-observation on the part of the viewer within a luminous matrix. The work is a concentration chamber for an abstract and temporal evocation of the second body: that of architecture.
The exhibition contains some foundational works. Base is a two metre square solid concrete slab that encloses a void impression of an absent body, identifiable through the holes created by the soles of the feet, palms of the hand and the brain cavity. Also on view are two versions of Edge, installed perpendicular to the wall, providing a haptic destabilisation of the architecture.
The fulcrum of the show is a large-scale work entitled Vessel, which also acts as a trait de liaison between the exhibition project at San Gimignano and Gormley's project for Galleria Continua's French venue. At Le Moulin, his investigation of the different variables in the relationship between the human body and living space is articulated in Space Station, a vast 23 tonne sculpture enterable by a small passage in the side of the work. Vessel is made out of 39 interconnecting rectangular steel boxes that reverse the renaissance trope of the city in the form of a man by making a man in the form of a city.
Four new works use the bubble-matrix principle to explore the way in which bubbles, the most fugitive of forms, coalesce to create cloud forms. Here is a language derived from the structure of matter and applied to the body to illuminate its temporal nature. They are complimented by Sum, made from an association of solid polyhedral forms expanded and arranged directly on the floor.
In the gallery's garden Gormley will install a double sculptural work in marble. The work tests the evolution of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, transforming bone, skin and muscle into a finished work of crystalline geometric rigour not dissimilar to the structure of marble itself. As in 2 x 2, shown at the 2010 Carrara Biennale, Gormley creates the image of a body that is inspired by the great artistic tradition of the nude, but at the same time reflects our new knowledge about the sub-optical properties of matter.
Recalling past projects such as Fai Spazio, Prendi Posto [Making Space, Taking Place] from 2004, the exhibition will continue outside the gallery and into the streets and cells of San Gimignano with an invasion of six identical body forms, including one placed on a tower close to the town's main piazza. This installation, realized in collaboration and with the patronage of the Municipality of San Gimignano, considers how the social role of sculpture has shifted from that of memorial and heroism to that of a reflexive object which encourages the viewer to be aware of his or her own position in space and time.
This installation and exhibition see the artist trying to reconcile the subjective space of the individual with the idea of the expanding universe, questioning how the human project fits into the scheme of things.
Through 20 August 2012
Antony Gormley: Vessel
Via del Castello 11, San Gimignano