A sunny spring Sunday morning was the perfect chance to check out Antony Gormley's extraordinary installation of sculptures, from earth to sky, based on mummified casts of his own body, at Madison Square Park. Getting out of a cab, I spotted a man standing rigid, the back of his head ramrod straight, but he wasn't a sculpture, only a man. These glorious valences of perception and perspective grow as one searches for the Gormley men.
The notion that the rooftop figures look like jumpers is ridiculous; in fact, the skyward guys appear more surefooted and serene than many of those walking on the street staring at devices! The figure atop the Equitable Building, for example, faces diagonally towards the waving American flag, in solemn, patriotic tribute.
As one walks around the perimeter of the park, the act of looking at, and for, the figures, constantly changes one's sense of visual scale. A rooftop figure on the north side of the park seems to diminish against a backdrop of floating clouds, while a more distant standing man, on the roof of a building at the juncture of Fifth and Broadway, in what is known as the Toy District, appears to be a toy soldier.
I found my aging eyes discerning rooftop Gormley men where, upon second look, there weren't any. Were those two sentry fellas near the gleaming gold cupola south of 23rd Street? Probably not. Amazingly, the most disturbing placement is the Gormley doppelganger at street level, near the planted pots on 23rd Street. No passerbys seemed at all disturbed by Gormley's healthy, naturalistic, uncircumcised, dangling cock, nor the bizarre Gatorade sized caps on his nipples and thighs, ready for attachable electrodes!
The figures above ground level also play delicious tricks of scale on the sculptures in Madison Square, turning the sitting Seward sculpture into a colossus, and animating that of political boss Roscoe Conkling, at the southeast corner of the park, into a lithe dancer worthy of Diaghilev, compared to the rigid Gormleys on the perimeter.
I have said it before: because of the hope, curiosity, participatory experience, garden atmosphere and genuine visual thrills, show after show after show, Madison Square Park and the Madison Square Conservancy are the best contemporary art museum in town, and the Gormley installation is, and this is the very highest praise, its best effort yet.
Antony Gormley, "Event Horizon," Mar. 26-Aug. 15, 2010, at Madison Square Park, Fifth Avenue at East 24rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10010.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).