March 5, 2008 / 3:59 PM / 11 years ago

Good art should unsettle not soothe

LONDON (Reuters) - Good art, says Antony Gormley, should make you feel unsettled, even challenged, and not fit neatly into your everyday life.

Artist Antony Gormley poses with his sculptural installation entitled "Lost Horizon" displayed during a preview of his exhibition at the White Cube gallery in central London March 5, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

The role of the artist is to foment revolution not confirm the status quo says the man who created the monolithic Angel of the North statue and has turned his own body into an art industry.

“We have to continuously break our own rules. Artists are capable of falling foul of their own conventions, of getting lazy,” Gormley told Reuters at the opening to the public on Wednesday of his two new works “Lost Horizon” and “Firmament”.

“Art should be an agent of destabilisation, an agent for change,” added the 57-year-old Londoner.

Following the success of his first major retrospective at the Hayward Gallery and Event Horizon exhibition on the rooftops of London last year, Gormley’s new installations at the White Cube, Mason’s Yard are again based on his body.

“Lost Horizon” has 32 life-sized solid iron copies of Gormley’s body adorning the floor, walls and ceiling of one room in the gallery.

“Firmament” has 1,770 steel rods welded together in a giant structure depicting the human form that arches across another, subterranean chamber.

“It is all about questioning where human beings fit into the world,” Gormley said. “When you walk into these rooms they should unsettle you, make you re-examine your place.”

“Art that makes you feel comfortable is likely to be craft, not art. It will naturally fit into conventions, not be evolving, challenging,” he said.

Gormley is surprised at the success of last year’s simultaneous exhibitions which drew record crowds to London’s South Bank and prompted numerous calls to police from members of the public who mistook his rooftop figures for suicide jumpers.

“That was very surprising. In my view good art is unlikely to be immediately accepted. But this clearly was,” he said.

Best known for the Angel of the North, a project he describes as an “absolute experiment” that towers over the A1 road in northeastern England, Gormley has also exhibited in Venice, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Portugal and China.

Despite being best known for public space installations, Gormley complains than most of today’s public art is lazy and meaningless, dismissing it as “garnish” for badly designed buildings.

“On the whole we have not reinvented the statue for the 21st century very convincingly,” he said.

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