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Critical Mass: the dialogue between Antony Gormley and Rodin in Paris

The British sculptor Antony Gormley is known for his rediscovery and re-invention of the human figure: his new exhibition “Critical Mass” is hosted by the Rodin Museum in Paris, where Gormley highlights Rodin’s modernity and influence on contemporary sculpture.

Gormley’s work has been seen indoors as much as outdoors, and for a specific reason that goes beyond his attention to nature and society’s relationship to it: British artist Antony Gormley is perhaps most interested in the relationship between the human body and space, and in turning the former into sculpture he conceives of the latter as both object and place. His suggestive and dramatic installations suggest the emotions that populate the visible from its invisible position, the way we lose ourselves, or what physicality means in terms of absence and presence. Underneath her figures, sometimes solitary, sometimes in groups, made of materials such as steel, iron or lead, are voids that could be occupied by bodies, surrounded by other figures, our own, that are part of the artist’s own production as we walk around them. In a way, we become part of his groups and can no longer be bystanders.

In the various spaces of the museum, we discover Gormley sculptures installed in front of Rodin’s works, suspended from the ceiling, propped up against the walls… The project’s title piece, Critical Mass (1995), extends from the museum to the garden, with sixty man-sized sculptures placed along a surprising route. Inspired by the work of Auguste Rodin, Antony Gormley has also experimented throughout his career, innovating and finding new ways of expressing his body, bringing his astonishing works to life. The English artist focused on 12 human poses and postures: the sculptor used these to explore the relationship between the body and its environment and the space around it: what is the difference between sitting, squatting, crawling or upright, and what emotions and feelings arise from these positions? The British artist experiments with and questions the place of the body in sculpture. With his bodies, the Englishman explores the boundaries between art and realism, and how still matter tells stories about the living. In the exhibition, Antony Gormley’s bodies confront, mix and sometimes specifically collide with each other, creating amusing and sometimes downright absurd installations. Exhibited alongside Rodin’s works, they seem to question their counterparts, creating an interesting dialogue between the modern and the ancient.

The exhibition also presents a series of works that play with material, space and air. Gormley is no secret, revealing behind-the-scenes secrets of his work to the viewer, exhibiting moulds, sketchbooks, studies, etc., which then allow us to better understand the works and discover how they came to be. We can also consult Gormley’s more than two hundred notebooks, which provide an overview of his four decades of drawing and observing our physicality. The London-based artist says Rodin remains an indispensable reference for today’s sculptors because he liberated the discipline from endless conventions, combining techniques and materials of the past and present to push the desire to experiment to the limit. The exhibition is on view until 3 March 2024.