«SCULPTURE IN THE MUSEUM AND BEYOND» Round Table Discussion at the exhibition «ANTONY GORMLEY. STILL STANDING: A CONTEMPORARY INTERVENTION IN THE CLASSICAL COLLECTION»
Dmitry Ozerkov: We are very glad to welcome you all here and invite you to take part in the discussion. Antony Gormley, the British sculptor, is the central figure of today’s event. I am Dmitry Ozerkov and this is Anna Trofimova; we are the two curators of Still Standing, the Antony Gormley exhibition at the State Hermitage. Elena Fedorovna Kolovskaya represents our long-standing partner, the ProArte Institute. We congratulate ProArte on the tenth anniversary of their wonderful festival ‘Contemporary Art in the ’ which continues to enjoy tremendous success and of which ’s exhibition is a special part of. I will now give the floor over to Elena, will moderate today’s discussion.
Elena Kolovskaya: Good evening everyone! Thank you, Dmitry, for the introduction and indeed, ‘Contemporary Art in the ’ is the theme of today’s event which we have called ‘Sculpture in the Museum and Beyond’. Our starting point is the Antony Gormley exhibition in the rooms of the and we do hope that the majority of you have been able to see it. Still, I don’t think that we are only going to talk about this exhibition. Of course, we will touch upon it, but we’d like to take a broader view of art and converse about how any kind of sculpture, whether ancient or contemporary, subsists in the contemporary museum and how it lives beyond the walls of museums, in the space of a city, or maybe not even a city – for, today’s guest, Antony Gormley, places his sculpture everywhere: on the seashore, in the mountains and on top of buildings in various cities. His people, the Gormley people, as we call them, travel worldwide. Thus, the theme of today’s conversation is sculpture as a phenomenon of Art; how it used to live before, how it is living now, what we think about it, and what we would like to ask and learn about it. We’ll structure our roundtable, or, our Triangular Table Discussion – oh, Oval Table Discussion, in the following way: firstly we’ll listen to our experts, starting with Anna Alexeevna Trofimova, Head of the World of Antiquity Department in the rooms of which the exhibition is happening and where they have made some really extraordinary transformations. ’s exhibition is unique, for the Hermitage or any large museum, for it is not often that an antiquity department would relinquish so much space to contemporary sculpture and, moreover, would allow its own collection to be played with. So, let’s start with Anna Alexeevna, then Dmitry Ozerkov, the ‘Hermitage20/21’ Project Manager, who deals with contemporary art in the Hermitage museum and then we’ll give the floor to our guest from Great Britain, Antony Gormley . We hope to fit all this into half an hour or so, after which we’ll have time for your questions which will form a very important part of today’s event. We don’t want this to be a conference with some people reading their papers and then everybody leaving; we want interaction with you. So, let’s begin. Please, Anna Alexeevna, take the floor.
Anna Trofimova: Good afternoon, dear colleagues. It is very nice to see so many faces and I would like such dialogues to continue and happen here in the museum as often as possible because, indeed, there is a question whether dialogue between the museum (its experts, curators, artists) and visitors (any other people) is at all possible in the gallery. I’m sure everyone has some thoughts on the matter and would like them to be heard. So, I’d like to go back to the ideas underlying the exhibition, because these ideas are directly related to the theme of our discussion.
Elena Fedorovna is absolutely right in saying that this project is unique for a large, traditional and world-famous museum. The refurbishment and re-exhibition of the in the Hermitage has been going on for 15 years. We are trying to review and reinterpret what we have in those galleries and it is absolutely our conscious choice to arrange the exhibits in the style of the 19th century (although in the 19th century such exhibitions did not exist in those rooms we are now stylizing them , recreating the symmetrical placing on the pedestals and trying to recreate the atmosphere of a traditional museum). Why did we do this and why do we choose to continue to do this? Because such is the unique historic situation of the Hermitage that made a leap from the 19th century into the 20th, due to the unique integrity of its museum complex. The New Hermitage, the building in which the antique art galleries are located, is part of it. The dominating type of art in that building is sculpture (I think nobody would dispute it that it’s a core and governing element there) and the whole exhibition builds on displaying sculpture. Other objects, such as vases or jewellery, only supplement the sculpture.
So, having practically finished our programme, we decided to do something perpendicular, something crosswise, in order to evoke questions and try to decide whether what we are doing is right. We wanted to ask everybody around us and most importantly, play on contrast, because things are perceived more keenly when they are contrasted. We wanted to try and see what the presentation meant, to try to understand how we model this world, how we show it to visitors and to ourselves. The best way for that was, firstly, to show antique sculpture like nobody else has ever shown it - is without plinths. It is true that nobody has ever shown antique work without plinths, even in contemporary museums in Frankfurt, in Liebieghaus and in Munich, in Glyptothek, antique statues stand on plinths (though low ones) and it’s a matter of principle. Secondly, we decided to show these antique sculptures alongside the works of a contemporary British sculptor.
Why did we choose Antony Gormley? Everybody asks me this question. Well, because he is a good sculptor, an outstanding sculptor, at least from our point of view. His qualities as an artist and the quality of his sculptures strongly appeal to us, not only in the sense that we are connoisseurs , curators and keepers of antique sculpture, but also because our galleries are ideal for sculpture. Any sculpture would look its best in our galleries and I think that at the Antony Gormley exhibition everyone can feel very good and easy.
So, what is Antiquity without a pedestal? It is an opportunity to experience sculpture in a very personal way, experience it emotionally, bodily and organically. Sculpture is the only kind of art that gives us this unique chance. We often see visitors in this exhibition who can hardly help crying from joy because they are overwhelmed by very strong emotions. They see that these statues are human bodies, that they are so fragile, so miniature, so near. This is a response that I think it is more than natural. Of course, we did want to shock visitors and activate Antiquity for them. For the majority of students (even students of art schools and universities) and ordinary people Antiquity is something that they studied at school and then forgot about. Yes, it is something very deep, prestigious, high, but it is also too far away from their contemporary life. So, we wanted to show that it is not so, that it is a very powerful and relevant art. I don’t really know what type of visitors spend more time in which room, this we will learn from the results of our survey.
I would also like to touch upon the theme that emerged from ’s exhibition and is relevant both for our exhibition and for sculpture in general, of different epochs and times. It is the correlation between the part and the whole. The majority of people don’t understand or realise the simple fact that the Antiquity that we can see in our galleries today is a fantasy. More often than not, there never existed such sculpture. It was restored in the 18thor 19th centuries, and, mostly, it is a kind of dream, an ideal that we now behold with such a pleasure, trust and gratitude. For this problem of the whole and the part is also very important. This core issue that underlies the art of sculpture is the same for both a sculptor of our time and for an ancient sculptor. It was interesting to show, and see it ourselves, that this concern remains part of the foundation of this type of art.
Finally I’d like to say a few words about something that did not happen within our project, but, nevertheless, relates to our discussion. It is sculpture beyond the museum, sculpture in the space of a city. I think it is very important, that at this roundtable discussion and at the exhibition there is a meeting of people from different departments, different specialisations and different professions. Being a specialist in the sculpture of classical antiquity, I must admit, however, that I feel very sad that we do not have good sculpture outdoors, I mean good, contemporary sculpture. Of course, we have monuments (Peter the Great and all that), but it is very seldom, practically never, that one can see any sculpture in the squares, or gardens, or streets of this city that would express the spirit of our age; that would express some social paradigm. It is not incidental that the best city sculpture was created on the rise of civil consciousness and cultural development, for example, in antiquity or during the Renaissance. Now, perhaps, a different historic period has started, but, nevertheless, I want to say that the art of sculpture is a very powerful thing and that it will be a great thing if our museum experiments manage to focus the attention of the public on sculpture beyond the museum.
Elena Kolovskaya: Thank you Anna Alexeevna. I give the floor over to Dmitry.
Dmitry Ozerkov: I will be very brief and to the point, because I want to leave more time for you and for Antony to speak and for the other people here. We keep discussing whether the Hermitage needs contemporary art. There is a variety of opinions as to what’s to be done and the participants of the ‘Hermitage 20/21’ Project that I lead, including myself, always say this: our mission is not just to create a museum of contemporary art and bring new art works into the old building, but to construct a dialogue, an interaction between the old and the new, because the Hermitage is an integral organism and any exhibition brought to it becomes a Hermitage exhibition.
This current project is a brilliant illustration of that idea, because the new works call for a conversation about the old. Today I was asked whether the antique sculptures were taken from storage, as the visitor thought that they had not seen them before and I responded by telling them that they have always been there. So, they were there, but people did not notice them. So, we exhumed them and turned them in a different way and they became objects of direct exploration, communication and beholding. So, I think we have achieved our goal through Antony’s ingenious idea. The main dramatis personae are the visitors who relate to the art, old and new, being now on the same level. There is no border between them, it is blurred and building this border anew, every beholder asks him/herself, “ What am I, and where am I standing?”
The last thing I wanted to say is that the theme of “sculpture in the museum and beyond” was partly prompted by the project that Antony engaged in about ten years ago in Köln, in which statues stood inside the museum and outdoors, looking through the glass wall at one another. There were four statues, some were inside and some were outside. Then, we had several discussions about how it would be best to show Antony Gormley’s sculpture in St. Petersburg. Some would say ‘Why don’t you put them on top of the facades of the Hermitage?’ – for there is room there for sculpture and we could have placed them there, in the same way as Antony’s figures were placed for Event Horizon in New York and in London.
So, the project that has been realised here was created through our joint efforts, following Antony’s plan and we tried to implement it as closely as possible. The core idea of this project, as Elena and Anna have rightly mentioned, is the sculpture that is around us. This or that way, we live with sculpture, there will be more and more of it around us in our city in the future, both indoors and outdoors. We’ll have to live with this sculpture and we’ll have to relate with it so maybe we can talk here about ‘quality sculpture’. What is good sculpture, how can we define it and how does it differ from bad sculpture? Why is new sculpture good and old sculpture bad - -or vice versa. What’s to be done? I’ll bring my speech to a close with these questions and I believe that you will have a lot of questions, too.
Elena Kolovskaya: Thank you Dmitry, especially for your brevity. Antony, please, the floor is yours.
Antony Gormley: This is not the end of the work for me, but the beginning. It is important to say that this is an experiment and everything that Anna and Dmitri have said is true and part of this experiment. All art was contemporary once and the continuity of art is what is so important. Anna has characterised this exhibition as a face-to-face contrast or conflict between the contemporary and the past, but I do not see it this way. This is about the human need to make an objective equivalent of our situation, of what it feels like to be alive and what our aspirations might be. Sculpture is very different from painting; it is not about making a picture of something, it is about putting a material proposition into the world and by the very force of doing that you change the world. Whether the change is great or small remains to be seen but the distinction between making a representation and making an object that causes displacement is the distinction that I am interested in: sculpture in the expanded field and the potential of sculpture to be the focus of change. I respond very well to the drift of both Dmitri and Anna's thinking. Why is it that the 20th century started so hopefully, with the idea of what sculpture could do for collective space, but ended without any of that hope still intact? How is it that the twentieth century contributed so little? Maybe here in Russia the contribution was more considerable than in my country but in London, for example, we have no significant public squares or spaces that have the imaginative quality that sculpture can bring. So I think that there’s a real urgency to do what this exhibition starts to do, which is to ask what happened to the ancient conception of a statue as a way of expressing collective values and correct collective aspiration? What happened to that notion and need? I have come back to the body in my work but not as an ideal or a hero or as a named protagonist in some real or mythological history; I want to involve your bodies as responsive, feeling beings in a field that is created by these abstract bodies. For me creating any exhibition is an adventure and a privilege but, in the end, it is a human experiment. Can the space of art be a space where possible futures can be shared, discussed and participated in?
Elena Kolovskaya: Thank you, Antony. We have already asked ourselves some questions, and we invite you to think them over, together with us.
So, what is good sculpture? What is it that is happening at the exhibition: a conflict, contrast or continuity? Continuity in art – how is it expressed now? I was really amused by what Dmitry shared – that he was asked if the statues were taken out of storage. Maybe, this question arose because nobody had ever seen those statues so near, having never had the opportunity to approach an antique statue at such proximity. When I went to look at it, I was struck by the unusual proportions - - when something is high up there, it’s one thing, but when it’s on your own level, you suddenly start thinking - - why is the head so small, or why is he so big, or why is he so tiny?
Sculpture in the city space, is it a reflection of time, of what is happening with us? Will good sculpture be around us, not only in museums, but also in other spaces? In general, what happened with sculpture in the 20th century? Let’s think all that over, we have one hour to discuss our ideas.
Isabella Belyat: I work in the Education Department, I am a guide and, among other things, I offer a cycle of lectures on sculpture consisting of 10 sessions in the exhibition galleries, the last lecture being on 20th century sculpture, which is not represented in our collection. During my sessions we analyse the expressive means of sculpture in great detail, such things as texture, colour, design, line, architectonics, time in sculpture, etc. So, my question is addressed to Anna and related to sculptures without pedestals. It is known that the plinth has the same function as the frame of a painting, in the sense that it marks out sculpture (not only as something artistic, but, at least in the art of classical antiquity, something ideal - a perfect phenomenon) from the surrounding world. The pedestal imparts a sense of otherness and puts sculpture into a certain relation with living people, but also to the environment in general. There emerges certain interplay between sculpture and ambient space. Hence my question: to what extent is sculptures’ standing, so to speak, barefoot on the floor, identical to how it was displayed during antiquity in the places where there were rows of statues in great quantities? When listening to you, I recalled some pictures from the Gallery of Ancient Painting History; there is a depiction of an antique sculptor’s studio among them. Even there, I think, the statue is on a plinth – I can’t say it for sure now – but nevertheless… And, also, the pedestal not only imparts a certain relationship between the work of art, ambient space and surrounding mankind, but it also elevates it in some ethical and moral sense. So, when a sculpture or a bust is without a plinth or column, it becomes just part of the crowd, it stops being itself. Such was my impression - - even though looking at the exhibition was immensely interesting. The scale, some artistic aspects like texture and proportion are perceived quite differently. But, please, excuse me - I’ve talked too long…
Elena Kolovskaya: Well, if I understand correctly, the question is whether removing sculpture from the pedestal is good or bad.
Isabella Belyat: Well, in a general sense, yes…
Anna Trofimova: Of course, sculpture would never be placed on the floor during Antiquity; it goes absolutely counter the museum tradition of both antiquity and Western Europe; sculpture has always been on a plinth. But we did it consciously, to let today’s beholder discover sculpture for him/herself. I believe that the physical laws of nature do not change, the laws of the body and the laws of visual perception. But this exhibition allows us to forget everything that we know about Ancient Greece and antique sculpture. It allows us to remove the entire historic context embodied and incarnated by the rooms that set this context. Yet, it seems to me, or, at least this is what I was driven by, that sculpture is always the same just like the laws of the body, the laws that govern how sculpture is built and the laws of sculptural perception. Sculpture is always sculpture. Our goal was to open people’s eyes and enable them to feel sculpture as art, as an object, as a body, as something within the space and as something, as Antony rightly says, that changes our life.
At this exhibition there are no labels to allow a more technical understanding of the works, the visitor may remember that this is Apollo and that is Dionysus, or, maybe, not. But that is not really important, because he/she will feel something else, something that is, perhaps, more important. He will feel love, attachment, gravitation, emotions and they will move him further. I don’t think that by displacing a sculpture like the Venus of Taurida, from the pedestal we humiliate her. I think that the sense of miracle that the beholder gets standing so near her evidently ennobles, or, at least, enables us to see something new.
Elena Kolovskaya: Thank you. It’s really great that the first question came from the Hermitage museum, but I can also see here representatives of the Academy of Arts, the State Russian Museum, the Smolny College and a lot of other organisations and we are waiting for questions from you.
Sergey Fofanov: I am Sergey Fofanov, and I am not going to say what I am, because a lot of things could be listed here. I’d like to address my question to Antony. If my understanding is correct, it was he who selected the antique statues – or did you do it all together? This is the first part of my question, and if it was Antony who did it, then my question is as follows. He has selected these particular sculptures. If a sculptor likes art, goes to museums, reflects on it, thinks about how to bring this material into the world, how to define Public Space; how one can destroy the space or, vice a versa, create it, etc… And, of course, he loves antiquity - everyone loves antiquity; it’s the beginning of Art. And classical antiquity is sculpture (and vases, of course) but first and foremost it’s the statues that everybody loves; and people read books about antiquity like the Aeneid, the Iliad and they play computer games and see films set in it and all that. Then they come to the museum and there are all those beautiful things and everybody loves them very much. And all those tsars bought them throughout many years, struggled and fought wars for them … And they tell the sculptor “Pick any you want”; and he says, “Well, this boy is too short; this one’s bum is too small; and this one’s head is somewhat bald…” And then he points, saying “this one, and this and that one…” Isn’t it really cool? Taking sculpture that is of sacral value, them being gods and all that and saying, “Let’s put them…” Well, I just wanted to ask Antony to share with us what he felt when playing with Antique Gods like they play with tin soldiers.
Antony Gormley: It is interesting that this discussion seems to want to recover or reinforce the power of the plinth. The plinth is an acceptance that the space of art is both literally and metaphorically higher than the space of life. I would say that life is always more valuable than any materialised ideology. Any value that a thing might possess must be earned. If we are all the victims of history then we are no longer, in some senses, alive. These ancient works have been brought back into the level field of shared existence, to share the space of thinking, feeling, moving bodies and, as a result, for the first time in a very long time, these human made things that of themselves are filled with a sense of human vulnerability, of longing, of yearning for beauty and stability suddenly begin to earn a living value – one that they had been denied by being separated from life. So far as I am concerned the most beautiful thing about this exhibition in relation to the classic works is that their fragility and vulnerability is suddenly something we feel and is not something that is imposed upon us by the distance of them from our level of living. This is the absolute opposite of disrespect. There is no value other than life. If we believe in art, art has to be an instrument by which life enriches itself, and makes more energy available. It is perfectly clear to me that these things have been transformed from dead examples of a lost culture in a time and place distant from us into active catalysts for living thinking, feeling, existing and moving us. Us, now. And this distance that we once felt has been reconciled, become intimate and no longer exists. Suddenly, those bodily feelings of protection and of acceptance of the size and particularity of the human body are suddenly available to us and we are able to have a conversation with these humanly made things in the same way that the maker did. I don't agree with you; I'm afraid that Phidias did not make his sculptures on top of a plinth - it really isn’t practical! If your head is at the same level as the feet of the sculpture you are making, well, how will you reach the head? It's not the way these things were made! The relationship of sculpture to sculptor is one-to-one, between that of a living body and a piece of geological history. Out of that relationship arises a body; one body gives its energy to a body of material. In order for that material to begin to produce energy in us it has to be in a parallel level of existence. I think in the end we're talking about power. Each one of us is making the world. We are no longer subject to the imposition of ideology; each one of us is a self-determining individual that makes our own truth and through communicating that truth makes a shared world. We can no longer treat ourselves as children; we are each of us gods and we are each of us making the future. And this is a revolution, not a political revolution, but a revolution of our creativity. And it is right that this revolution should start here because, in the end, belief is a cultural issue.
Elena Klovskaya: Antony, part of the last question asked what criteria you used to select these particular sculptures and what did you feel while you were choosing them?
Antony Gormley: OK, more pragmatic! I liked the sexy ones. I thought we should have naked and clothed. I thought we should have big ones and little ones. And it was very important that we have a burned one, the second Aphrodite. Not the Venus of Taurida, but this beautiful (for me the most beautiful) sculpture that has fallen from its position of idealisation. So, in the catalogue there is a photograph of this sculpture burnt and lying on the ground that accepts the fact that time has written a story on this object and that this is a partial gift from the past. Anyway, I just had fun!
Elena Kolovskaya: Antony mentioned the catalogue, and Dmitry wanted to say a few words about it.
Dmitry Ozerkov: Well, now that we have demonstrated that we all can speak English… Antony said something about the catalogue, we have made a special book that will be on sale next week, and we’ll have its official presentation tomorrow. This catalogue details the stream of thought throughout the selection of the sculptures; it shows the statues, old and new, with photos taken from 8 angles, contrasted with each other. It gives you an idea why, and what, and how. It’s like a separate special documentary material.
Elena Kolovskaya: This was a brief PR for the catalogue! Your questions, please.
Vlad Chintsov : My name is Vlad Chintsov, I am an artist. As I understand, we are discussing two themes firstly the contrast between antique and contemporary culture, and secondly, sculpture within the city space.
As for the contrast, I would like to tell you about a project that was realised in the Kharkov Museum of Art, called “New History”. It was a curatorial project by the Soska Group. The project combined paintings from museums and paintings by contemporary artists. And the contrast was so huge that they closed the exhibition down. There were huge complaints from visitors, so the Director yielded to those complaints and terminated the exhibition, driving those contemporary artists out. That initiated a dispute about contemporary art and its relation to traditional art.
The second question was about sculpture in a city space. You touched upon the theme of the sublime or high art, saying sculpture is something spiritually elevated. And I thought that this might have been relevant in the past but, now, more social themes are touched upon by sculpture. Some artists can make sculpture of scotch tape, and Mark Jenkins is one of them, if my memory is not failing me; and I know an artist from Kiev, Zhanna Kadyrova, who also makes sculpture about social responsibility, for example, her Green Apple from Perm. And my question is, what do you think about it, what is the importance of sculpture nowadays?
Should sculpture tackle social issues, or should it be only aesthetically high, as in the past?
Elena Kolovskaya: In other words, must there be a social theme in sculpture, or must it be only scotch tape and eaten apples?
Dmitry Ozerkov: While Antony is getting the end of the translation, I’ll say a few words. The answer to the first part of the question is, if there is any criticism of our present project that could lead to everyone being against the exhibition, resulting in its termination and me and Anna being fired then we’re ready for it – that’s why we are sitting here. So, we’ll be glad to hear criticism and respond to it.
As for the second part of the question - about the sublime versus social, high art versus critical, I think that Antony will give you a better answer than I could because one of his previous projects in London ‘One and Other’ addressed this directly, I think. That project was about enacting the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square over one hundred days – can you follow my thoughts?… It was a project in 2009, where people were given the opportunity to go up onto the pedestal and do on it whatever they chose, as long as it wasn’t against the law. This was largely an elevation of the person but, at the same time, it had a social aspect to it. But, perhaps, Antony will comment on this. It’s a well known project, anyhow. The reason I thought of it was that it was a combination of the uncombinable. The opposition that you spoke about was bridged in that project, I think. Now Antony will say ‘no’ (!), for, may be, he disagrees.
Antony Gormley: I can't believe that we're still discussing this issue of the plinth. It’s so extraordinary to me. Sculpture came off the plinth about a hundred years ago and here we are, still regretting the loss of the plinth. I think we have to move on; I think we should have got over the loss of the plinth at least a generation ago. This issue about the social responsibility of sculpture is, however, critical. We are the inheritors of the twentieth century. If we take the moral of those pioneers of Modernism, Brancusi in sculpture and Mondrian in painting, both of them believed that the only responsibility of the artist was to make a world on their own terms, within a studio that was separated from the world and that became, in a sense, the focus of utopia. For them the artist was the unique, free individual who was able to give value to work that the world would, perhaps, not recognise as having value. What this resulted in was the retreat of art from its social responsibility. So, I can answer my own question: the reason that there is very little twentieth century art in the streets of modern Europe is that artists did not want to do state or public commissions; they thought of such work as a compromise of their unique freedom as individuals. Well, I think of sculpture as having the highest potential in terms of social responsibility and I am very interested in how it can again begin to act directly on the world. Dimitri mentioned One & Other which was, in a way relevant to this project. For One & Other I asked people to represent themselves, rather than the sculptor having the right to make the portrait. Let’s offer, in a democratic way, the right to activate this old fashioned idea of the specialised and higher idea of art and see what happens. We had two thousand four hundred people who were all given one hour each to occupy this column that was made for William IV, the son of George the IV, in 1860 and had since remained unoccupied. The result was extraordinary, so far as I'm concerned. We had this monument made from two thousand four hundred hours of real life. Luckily this has now been preserved by The British Library, who made the website of the project the first to be archived for the nation. Now have two thousand four hundred hours of people doing very different things; some very stupid and some very frivolous and some very serious. But what it was was an illustration of the way in which people can use the space of art as a place in which their hopes and fears can be communicated and shared. I think in some senses One & Other is a kind of caricature. It is not an answer to the bigger question, which is how do we recover collective engagement, the participation in material propositions that exist within shared space, because I think that artists have given up on this as a challenge
Elena Kolovskaya: Thank you, Antony. More questions, please - only, as far as I understand, not about plinths.
Yana Klichuk: I have a short question. Anna, you’ve said that your rooms are ideal for sculpture. Could you explain what an ‘ideal space for sculpture’ is? And I'd like to ask the same question to Antony.
Anna Trofimova: An example is the Roman Courtyard by Leo von Klenze, that was specially designed for displaying sculpture. What does that mean? The space is very sculptural, it has a lot of columns, a lot of compartments and large windows, which give life to sculpture because in St. Petesburg light changes every second. The walls in this room, like in other rooms, are rendered with stucco – or artificial marble, and it is deep, but not bright or loud in colour. White silhouettes look wonderful against this background. The room is also decorated with columns; they have very sculptural bases that make them perfectly suited for sculpture, be it ancient or as we have discovered now, contemporary because, evidently, the relation between a body and the space, or the space and sculpture and the laws of sculpture’s life within the space do not change with time. This is what I had in mind when speaking about an ideal space for sculpture.
Antony Gormley: I'm not sure I entirely agree with this characterisation of this courtyard room as ideal. You could say that it is already full of columns before you put any objects in. The columns are already quite large and dominant and then there’s the architectural detail, which I would term decorative, as well as the problem of the floor. The floor is very busy, it's also very beautiful but it says ‘look at me - I'm a beautiful floor!’ - so there's a lot going on already in the courtyard room. You could just exhibit the room itself, rather than doing anything with it and it would still be of interest. The challenge for me was how, given the business of the room, can I activate it? The truth is that I had to put more work than I have ever had to put into any exhibition of mine into this one space. Normally, the maximum number of sculptures in any one room would be three and one might be on the floor and the other hung from the ceiling and one from a wall but they would be very separate and they would acknowledge these absolute orthogonal surfaces but I couldn't do that here, so the room was a real challenge for me. It is the absolute opposite of a white cube – it is a multi coloured, columned, highly decorated and partially naturally lit room. It was a good challenge! And whether I did well enough to meet that challenge remains to be seen.
Elena Shur : Elena Shur, psychologist. I would like to speak as a representative of the audience. And my question is about the energy that sometimes helps to move things, but sometimes keeps them static. For example, when Anna said that she feels that she is lacking sculpture in the cityscape, I immediately thought ‘what about Zurab Tsereteli’? Had some power not hindered him, we would have had quite a lot of that kind of sculpture in our city environment. And on the other hand, we have some sculpture in the Artists’ Village, where everything is very refined but it has no energy to come out into our streets. But Zurab Tsreteli has no problem with doing that and it’s not only about politics. There is some other element there.
I would also like to share, briefly, my impression of the exhibition. First of all, it has become absolutely clear that the continuity of time is not broken. Then, as a viewer, I realised that I was very sorry that my idealised sculptures can step down from their pedestals so easily, even though it’s clear that for me to feel that, someone had to put them down, at least for a minute. Then I realised how fragile they are; realised how strong and energetic, though a little fragmented, a contemporary person is, while my exquisite ideals are so fragile and delicate. I was very much afraid that someone would sneeze at my Venice – it’s scary. But, once again, for me to experience that, I had to see it.
Elena Kolovskaya: Have you got any question to ask?
Elena Shur: My question is where is that charge of energy that makes Tsereteli’s sculpture work, while, for example, Kaminker’s sculpture doesn’t work?
Dmitry Ozerkov: I think that the fact this audience is almost full, proves that the energy you are talking about doesn’t disappear into the void. We always strive to discuss things and in our view, there is no such thing as good or bad; there is an impulse, some willingness that has brought Antony Gormley here to move around our very heavy sculptures and makes us look at them in a different way. Energy is always present, and we could reason and discuss how it drives things, but this reasoning will be too abstract. I believe that the most important thing is that things are happening and that those things find a response with the public. The next step is to go out into the city environment, and I am hopeful that that will happen soon.
Anna Trofimova: The energy must be in the society. If there is a charge of energy in society and I mean civil society, if we are talking about sculpture outside museums / energy and humanism then everything depends on that. Whatever Tseretely might do, he won’t be able to make it – I mean it’s not enough just to produce a lot of sculptures and have some complementary supporting circumstances. And I’m wondering when the moment will come when this energy – this human energy – will come to work. It is one thing to make an installation, or build a big skyscraper and quite another thing to make a city sculpture that becomes emblematic, alluring, a landmark near which people would like to assemble and for that sculpture to be passed down generations to come. It seldom happens and we are not likely to invent it off-the-cuff, however much we discuss it. That depends on something else.
Pavel Gerasimenko: Good afternoon. If you allow me, I’d like to continue your line of thought. My name is Pavel Gerasimenko, I am an art critic and historian. It is known that the installation of sculpture in public spaces is always preceded by public discussion. I would like to ask Antony if he has had such discussions, if he ever happened to listen to some bureaucratic opinions, a British bureaucratic opinion or if there have been cases when his public art projects have been be turned down, or if he has had to make amendments to them. What is the accepted practice of approval for installing public art? And how important is the voice of the public for the sculptor? Thank you.
Antony Gormley: I think that patronage requires the same level of creativity and boldness as the making of a work but you will never get the same degree of energy or original response from committee decisions about a cultural object. Having said that, I have on several occasions had my work submitted to some kind of collective appraisal. The very first large work that I proposed was for a city in the middle of England called Leeds. It was for a large building in human form made out of bricks that was going to be 40m high and this was a result of a city commission in which the public were invited to comment on about 15 proposals. The sculpture that got the maximum number of votes from the public was of a large tea cup and saucer that was going to be about 5m high and that slowly revolved three times in an hour. Luckily, they did not build that sculpture! And, for some reason, they did choose mine although later on in the process the very councillors that commissioned the work failed to give it planning condition which was ironic but that is a perfect example of how collective decision making results in confusion and a lack of confidence. So far as I am concerned, great art needs a great patron and sculpture in this respect is the same as architecture where unless you have an intelligent and passionate client you aren't going to get a great building.
Elena Kolovskaya: I would also like to add a few words about that energy and what we get as a result in our public spaces. It seems to me that, even though a lot of words are spoken about modernisation and innovation (we hear them from morning till night), we see too little with our own eyes. The reason may be that cultural traditions, rooted in the past, are still very strong in society. We are moving ahead, with our eyes on the 19th century - this is where we look to get all our inspiration from and this is true about artists as well. There is a problem with education, too, because education is also stuck there, in the previous centuries. We leaped over the 20th century in total madness, with our eyes wide shut, and now we have to make up for a lot of things we missed. This is an issue of visual culture, an issue of education and some core values. Such things can’t be accomplished overnight or very quickly; twenty years of change have passed. We tend to rush from one extremity to another, and we have a long way to go. So, I think that the question of when we are going to see some wonderfully beautiful things around us (and not necessarily sculpture – there is a lot of good contemporary art besides it) remains a big question. We do try and the Antony Gormley exhibition is one of our attempts.
Your questions, please.
Gleb Ershov: I am Gleb Ershov, an art critic. Thanks a lot to the Hermitage for setting a precedent in displaying contemporary sculpture by such a great contemporary artist as Antony Gormley and it’s good if our bureaucrats, going to the Hermitage, could somehow contemplate and feel for it and so improve the level of their culture. But where would an enlightened bureaucrat go in the Hermitage? To the Gallery of Antiquity, of course, because from early childhood he has been told that it is there that beauty is found. And when he sees that beauty accompanied by some unknown one, he may start thinking - something can penetrate his busy mind, blurred by contemplations about where to go and what to do.
But I what I wanted to say is the following: We talked about the plinths, and Antony rightly observed that contemporary sculpture did away with them a long time ago. Contemporary sculptures on plinths can seldom be found, but, nevertheless, sculpture still needs to differentiate itself from ambient reality, and nowadays it prefers some kind of context for this purpose. If, for example, we take Segal - it’s his withdrawal, the whiteness of his sculptures; or if we take some other example of Public Art, we can say that for context there is a role for a plinth, or a pedestal. So, I think that for Antony the choice of context is like a plinth. But my question is not about that. Evidently, the Hermitage context is very important; it immediately creates some kind of a plinth for Antony’s sculptures, though they do not need it as such; but this is what the plinth is like in this case. My question runs as follows. We haven’t said or heard anything about the form of your sculpture, while it is highly diverse – sometimes you place naturalistic bodies in different parts of landscape; sometimes you present futuristic objects. In this case, in the Hermitage, you have offered the public some ‘cubist people’. How would you explain your choice? What drives you to choose this or that aspect of the form – it can be a transparent form, it can be something that renders bodies metaphorically … But in this particular case, what explains your choice of this particular form for the Hermitage?
Antony Gormley: I think this is an important question. At the beginning of Cubism, in 1904/5 when Braque and Picasso first experimented with interpreting the organic by the language of the grid, was an attempt (in our mythology of the evolution of artistic language from analytical Cubism that was followed by synthetic Cubism) to break down the Determinism of the perfect mimetic copy, of the picture, of representation. I have decided to return to the language of early Modernism not in order to do a mechanistic job, nor in order to answer certain formal questions but to see how you can apply the language of Modernism to the body (the body that we have to remember that Modernism in the end rejected). If we think of Mondrian as the high Modernist who, in taking red, blue and yellow and the orthogonal grid as the primary instrument by which the modern mind can sharpen its perceptions then in a sense the body was rejected by Modernism as being too traditional, as having to do with representation and history. I want to bring back the language of Modernism, apply it to the body in order to find an abstract body and discover what emotions are possible by making this marriage. The Hermitage is not a bad place to do it. There were certain practical challenges to do with these objects being massive and solid enough to submit themselves to the kid of walkthrough by the public that is normal in the Hermitage but for me and most interestingly, the philosophical challenge is to go back to the beginning of this divergence of high art from the social and look again at this primary trajectory.
With Cubism we end up with Carl Andre & Donald Judd and the notion of the specific non-referential object - this is a natural progression. I too was an art historian so I learned these mythic tales! There is a natural progression or trajectory from Cubism but, so far as I am concerned, Judd is also a mythological idealist. He takes a very American idea of purity, attaches it to the notion of industrial and rational production and ends up with the idea of the specific non-relational object that has no reference. This is the highest ideal: the autonomy of the work of art that is itself and has no known reference to other things or beings. Well, I think that is literally a dead end. In returning to this early language of Modernity, to Cubism, I am trying to recover the really critical thing that I believe the formalism of Modernism left out which is the necessity of making objective correlatives of our situation as emotional statements, as emotional vessels, emotional vehicles and emotional instruments, through which we may understand our own experience. This is what art ends up having to be. I hope we all have a need for art because it embodies things that we feel but cannot communicate. This remains an open question but this is my ambition for this work.
More broadly (and maybe this is more dangerous for me to suggest) St Petersburg, on one level, is the vision of one man who wanted to make a dream scape, not just the ideal of an object as characterised by classic sculpture but the whole city is the dream of a context that talks about the highest cultural values - but this is a Hollywood idea. Can we go behind this facade and think about the history of destruction and reconstruction? I'm talking now about things I have no right to talk about but I feel a connection with the 900 day siege of this town and the heroism and sacrifice that was made in order to continue the life of this city. I am interested in the way in which the whole of the Russian people have had to live through at least two ideological changes and deconstruct and reconstruct their belief systems, as much as their physical environment. So far as I am concerned this is the background to these forms and this place and this exhibition.
Alexey Boiko: I am Alexey Boiko, an art critic. Dmitry invited us to bring some intonation of criticism into our conversation. I think it was an offer of the exhibition co-author who felt how successful it is, and how fundamental. Is there, indeed, any place for criticism here? Maybe, only in an implicit way, in some self-evaluation. Antony claimed that there was no conflict in this project, but I think that it is really full of it. Let’s describe what happened in the simplest words. Firstly, contemporary art squeezed antique art out of its permanent place in the first room, and forced the monuments to jump off their pedestals in the second room. I think this dramatic story is full of conflict in itself, but it also amazingly aligns with the context of St. Petersburg as a whole, if we look further than this exhibition. Roman Jacobson wrote a brilliant article about sculptures in the oeuvres of Pushkin. There he noted that all the statues in Pushkin’s poems move from their places – be it the Golden Rooster, or the Stone Guest, or, more over, the Bronze Horseman. Then the author makes a transition from Pushkin’s works to the sculpture of St. Petersburg and we realise how mobile sculpture is in St. Petersburg – for example when the monument to Suvorov travelled from place to place several times or when horrible things were happening in the cemeteries with tombstones – there have been several ways in which sculpture has changed in this city. So, it seems to me, this project is one more page in the history of St. Petersburg’s sculpture and its relation with space and dynamics. In this regard I have two questions to Antony. Firstly, during the days of your stay here, did you manage to behold and reflect on St. Petersburg’s sculpture and does the context within which you work enrich your creative activity? Does it give any impulse for further creation? Secondly and perhaps it can be a question not only for Antony, but also to other organisers of this exhibition - - if we define this project as an adventure, be it dramatic or not, - is it the adventure of sculpture, the adventure of the museum, or the adventure of viewers? Thank you.
Antony Gormley: I think you should go and look at the displaced sculptures they may be more important than the placed ones. In the hall and before the secretariat of the museum there are wonderful relatively un-curated concentrations of ancient sculpture that, in a way, are perfect illustrations of exactly what you're talking about. In order to give attention to one thing you have to make space; in order to Twitter you have to stop reading War and Peace. The issue here is however much I want to forget value judgements in the end we have to assess whether this kind of displacement is really valuable. A statue of Alexander III, a statue of Peter the Great and the poems of Pushkin are connected by a very sentimental idea about how sculpture can reinforce shared mythologies or collective histories. They are, however, usually to do with exploitation and to do with reinforcing dominant ideologies and hierarchies. Sculpture has reinforced the status quo and been used for most of its history (certainly in most of the Western world) to reinforce moral and social orders and hierarchies of power. That is why the male military hero and the body of the woman used as an object are the most common subjects. Both of those power systems have to be questioned. I think that if we believe in the transformative effect of art, the most radical thing that an exhibition like this can propose is that art in our time’s principle duty is towards the construction of a collective future, not the reinforcement of a collective and oppressed past. In my view the art of our time is necessarily confrontational, necessarily deconstructive and it is about asking questions rather than providing answers.
It is a strange thing that sculpture has, because it speaks in the language of geological time, been the primary repository of human aspiration for long power possession. The reason that Amenhotep III or King Sargon of Assyria decided to make very large images of their own divine kingship is the wish to maintain a lineage of power over a subject people. I hope that we have evolved from this state of human evolution in which slavery and constant war are the necessary conditions of human existence. What I am doing here is making a proposition of value that has nothing to do with known symbolic languages and that's why it is important that we living bodies are in here, sharing this space and that the exhibition will share its space with other living bodies. It is important that there is participation in the arisal of value. In the exhibition there is no inscribed value. You have imported into the heart of the Hermitage about 8.5 tonnes of totally useless iron. It is an inert material that has no intrinsic value and the only value that might arise is that if this becomes, in the manner of organic chemistry, a catalyst for the production of value that may be slightly energised and enhanced by the discussion in this room. What can a lump of iron in human form do as a still, silent obstruction in the flow of human bodies that are looking for things to look at? What is the necessary behaviour that those objects might begin to afford, as a result of being in this context in which other objects that were made to be looked at are equally enclosed?
Elena Kolovskaya: Then I’ll readdress the last question about whose adventure it is – that of the museum, sculpture or viewers to Anna and Dmitry.
Anna Trofimova: I think we all have different answers to that question. I’ll tell you what I think. In my view, this exhibition is an adventure for sculpture in a museum. Some of these statues stood in their places for 50 or even 100 years, never leaving them and each curator knows that as soon as you move a sculpture from its place or take it off its plinth the perception of it cardinally changes. Absolutely new ideas start coming to your mind and absolutely new feelings. But, if you pay attention, you will see that this time it’s an adventure of not only the sculptures that are part of the exhibition, but it’s an adventure that embraces the whole first level of the building where our antiquity galleries are located. The sculptures from the Roman Courtyard are now in the antechamber (the room before the Twenty Column Gallery) and you know, you can’t tear visitors away from them, they are attracted, they gather there. I don’t know how to interpret it and how to respond, but they are intrigued, interested and excited. Maybe it’s because that exhibit is in the style of the 18th century museum. Visitors from Asia, perhaps, recognise something that reminds their Sintoist or Buddhist temples. In any case, it is obvious that they find it interesting. Similarly, with the famous statue of Dionysus, from the Dionysus Room, that is now on a wooden plinth, like they did would have presented it in the 19th century, when the building of the New Hermitage was being prepared. For these three months (and I can reassure those who are concerned about it that in three months everything will go back to its place, back onto pedestals and antiquity will again be as beautiful and inaccessible as before and we’ll restore the permanent display) we’ll have an opportunity to travel together with sculpture in time and space within the context of our museum, our galleries and context shapes the meaning.
Dmitry Ozerkov: Using the metaphors of this hour-and-a-half discussion, I would say that each person creates his own, different world whether that person is a sculptor, a viewer, a museum technician, or a museum curator. But, the peculiarity of St. Petersburg as a very big, interesting and textured city is that as a whole, it can be perceived as a big work of sculpture - that is, you can walk within this big sculpture, where every façade is sculptural, the granite is sculptural; where there are sculptures created by man and sculptures created by nature and here at the Hermitage in the Dionysus Room and the Roman Courtyard there are only small parts of it - - a central axis from the viewpoint of its planning … Or vice versa you can perceive it technically, like Antony tends to say, as ‘geology’. All these are objects with their own chemistry and geology. We are amidst materials - we are sitting at a wooden table, within stucco walls; the floor is made of different kinds of stone – dirty stone, clean stone and all have different shapes and are ‘warm’ or ‘cold’. Or, we can see it differently: whatever is happening, each moment, each second I am an object or participant of different processes: for example, when I am tweeting, or when I am participating in a discussion around the Antony Gormley exhibition, or when I walk out of the Hermitage and it’s raining, or when I am an object for a camera (there are people who take pictures and immediately spoil it … taking in anything – a stone, a sculpture, the Neva river that can sometimes be sculptural and sometimes not). There are very different points of view. Everybody chooses himself a format, or a perspective; his attitude to the world. And I think that an exhibition that shifts the customary angles and accents, like our modest exhibition here, is important. By the way, I disagree that it is a revolutionary project; it does shift the accents temporarily, but it is modest - from the perspective of the Hermitage’s history it’s a short episode, lasting only three months. Those who happen to find themselves in these rooms during these three months will have an opportunity to look at themselves differently, in a new way; thinking ‘What do I see?’, ‘Who and what am I?’, ‘What am I doing?’, ‘Why?’ .
Elena Kolovskaya: I think this is an adventure for the museum, for sculpture and for the viewer. And this is a felicitous coincidence in this exhibition. I noticed that in the contemporary room, the room with Antony’s sculptures, young people and especially children stop and look more than older visitors. I spoke with the children I know, and realised the following. Antony spoke a lot about cubism as a starting point and about de-constructivism and children perceive this as pixel sculpture, some kind of a Tetris computer game and they immediately recognize and read it, but adults, vice versa, are more attracted to antiquity. So, the perception of viewers is heterogeneous, there is a difference in the perceptions of the different generations. Thus, adventures await us for three months, do hurry to experience them!
Project: PROJECTS WITH THE HERMITAGE