Published: 'Art City' Blog, MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, April 2009 (no longer online)
"Filtered Out: Antony Gormley"
Last month Manchester Art Gallery revealed their latest purchase: Antony Gormley’s Filter.
Walking up the stairs of the gallery’s modern extension the life-size male figure hangs horizontally above you, face looking down, threatening to come crashing upon your head.
Made of cut steel rings welded together, Filter comments on the mechanical analogy between our biological body and machines, and the construction of our exterior self by mass-produced culture. High street clothing, changing trends, cosmetics. Just as the shell of Filter was manufactured, our appearance is also a product of mechanical processes.
The holes of the steel rings allow you to see the interior of the body, the heart of steel balls it contains, and the sky outside the glass roof of Manchester Art Gallery. It is a body completely open to its environment, it is involved and part of the space it hangs in.
The steel complements the metal framed and glass interior of the stairwell. You project yourself onto the sculptures human form and feel the tension, the vulnerability, of such frozen suspension. Is he hovering, flying or falling?
However, though I am a fan of Gormely’s work and like Filter, I couldn’t help feeling that it would have been smarter if Manchester Art Gallery had made a more original choice of artist.
I am not insulting the piece or that, as with much of Gormley’s work, the figure is based on the artist’s own body. Rather that Antony Gormley seems to be on slight overkill right now. His Angel of the North stands tall in Gateshead and his instillation Another Place populated Crosby Beach, Merseyside a few years ago. Soon his piece One and Other will preside on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth. To put it bluntly, Antony Gormley is everywhere.
While this does mean that Filter is a safe purchase, and it undoubtedly places Manchester Art Gallery more prominently on the map in terms of contemporary art. Maybe, just maybe, a work by a different modern British artist would have provided more national coverage and provoked more response. Rachel Whiteread? Marc Quinn? There are so many to choose from.
Antony Gormley’s Filter threatens to be so familiar to viewers that it fails to be exciting. Audiences know Gormley’s work and expect to see a passive figure of some description. Filter becomes just another Gormley.
Galleries in Manchester need to show that they are pushing boundaries and providing new work, new artists. They need to offer art and artists that are not associated with nearby artistic hotspots such as Liverpool.
Sometimes jumping on the bandwagon is not the best option. The Gormley Express in particular. Especially when your suitcase contains a £80,000 grant from The Art Fund and a mass of potential.
Manchester Art Gallery
Mosley Street, M2 3JL