Antony Gormley - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 4, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Literature

    Richard Noble and Antony Gormley, Antony Gormley, London, 2007
    Clive Turnbull, "Antony Gormley: The Impossible Self", The Green Book, vol. III, no. 1, front cover and pp. 20-28 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Antony Gormley uses his own body as medium, tool and subject. In Mountain and Sea, two figures – each derived from a mould of Gormley’s own form – stand locked in an embrace. In this work, Gormley meditates on the unique process of objectifying a subjective moment. One ‘bodycase’ (the mountain) is rigid but unstable, arms by its sides and falling backwards, with its toes raised off the ground. It is an image of the resistance to change of fixed positions. The other ‘bodycase’ holds the first, preventing it from falling. In Gormley’s words, this ‘casing of a body holding a casing’ can be seen as an elemental metaphor ‘a sculptural evocation of the pathetic fallacy; the poetic notion that human emotion can best be described in the relations between the elements’. This gives an emotional charge to the composition: is this embrace a reflection of some personal relationship thrust into the public realm, or some evocation of the potential and limits of sculpture itself? While the body language may hint at some unrequited feelings between these figures, there is nonetheless a sense of acceptance, support and understanding.

    Mountain and Sea is one of the first works that Gormley cast in iron and is hollow, like his earlier lead bodycases. The work was cast in London at the Meridian foundry in Peckham, close to his home and studio at that time; a foundry that had never previously cast in iron. Mountain and Sea was created at a pivotal time in Gormley’s career, when his work was beginning to garner increasing international attention and acclaim. His works had been shown at the Venice Biennale in 1982 and 1986, at Documenta in 1987 and two years later, would be the subject of a major solo exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark.

    At this time, most of his sculptures were based on moulds taken directly from the artist’s body: a process of casing in plaster and scrim that captured an overall attitude or stance of a body but refused the likeness of the statue. This allows the sculptures to function as universal entry-points for the viewer, allowing empathy and understanding through their balance between being the record of a specific body and the generic mode of its capture. ‘My work is the index of a real body in time’, Gormley explains. ‘It is not symbolic. It has no narrative other than the narrative of its own making.’ (Antony Gormley quoted in Antony Gormley on Sculpture, London: Thames & Hudson, 2015, p. 159)

    The fact that Gormley’s lead bodycases are hollow is often made evident, as in Land, Sea and Air II (1982), where the eyes, nostrils and ears are all indicated by apertures in the lead casing; or in the eye-like stigmata holes in the chest, hands and feet of Untitled for Francis (1986), currently on display at Tate Modern. By the mid-1990s, the hollow interiors of the moulds were filled, making the solid cast iron masses of bodyforms like those of Another Place (1998), now permanently installed at Crosby Beach near Liverpool.

    During the 1980s in particular, Gormley often used his work to activate the contexts in which they were placed: lying on the ground, protruding from the wall or suspended from the ceiling. In Mountain and Sea, he seems to be considering his relationship to sculpture itself and its ability to capture and evoke memory. The dual figure has continually recurred in Gormley's work, taking its cue from Brancusi's The Kiss (1907) in an investigation of two bodies becoming one. Other examples include Gormley’s Growth (1987), Dawn (1988) and Landing II (of the same year). These sculptures introduced a new binary dimension to his work.

    Gormley has attributed an interest in using his own body as the template and armature for his sculptures in part to Buddhist ideas and art: ‘[Buddhism] gave me the idea that you can make sculpture about being rather than doing; that you can make sculpture that becomes a reflexive instrument rather than existing as freeze-frame in a narrative.’ (ibid., p. 143). In Mountain and Sea, that reflexivity is taken to a new extreme in evoking a sculptor’s relationship with his work and offering it as an analogue for an individual's relationship to other bodies.

    The title hints that these figures may also relate to the teachings of the alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541) who in his works makes several claims that faith could cast the mountains into the sea. Paracelsus’ writings have often served as a reference point for Gormley, touching upon the maxim, ‘As above, so below; as within, so without’. In Mountain and Sea, the artist’s body has become a microcosm of a wider order and thereby a means of understanding our participation in the wider scheme of existence itself.



Mountain and Sea

iron and air
193 x 67 x 47 cm (75 7/8 x 26 3/8 x 18 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1987-88.

£200,000 - 300,000 ‡♠

Sold for £401,000

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Henry Highley
Head of Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2016