The lone figures stand up there along the rooftops and crevices of buildings that you've never quite seen before, until now - MetLife, the Flatiron, and lesser-known structures now new and suddenly fascinating, carving out their universal figures in space against the sky. These thirty-one life-size men fluctuate in meaning, like passing thoughts - as witnesses, sentinels, guardian angels (a little Wings of Desire, without the wings and trench coats), naked dudes (the artist's own body as model), or mute sightseeing guides to hint at famous architecture. The ones on the ground invite closer inspection. When I was checking out one of them yesterday, the one that stands facing south toward the Flatiron's famous curve, several people stopped to take a picture with him. Others drew closer, unafraid of how an inanimate and immovable man might react, and gave him - and it's most definitely a him, a gentle pat on the rear.
British sculptor Antony Gormley (1950- ), a figurative artist who uses his own body as the basis of much of his art, originally created this work, titled Event Horizon, in 2007 for sites in London. Now, they've come to inhabit the Flatiron District. Even for fans of architecture or others accustomed to looking above the normal visual field, the presence of the figures in relationship to the buildings heightens an awareness of their scale and proportion. It's amazing how large some look, even that high up, or how powerful. At a social level, the figures provoke questions about the everyday life of seeing and being seen. For those of us who sometimes frequent rooftop terraces, window offices in skyscrapers, or our own balconies up in the air, exploring Event Horizon can trigger a new consciousness, or rather, a self-consciousness, about privacy and transparency. Gormley, in talking about the work for Mad. Sq. Art (official site), says “I don’t know what is going to happen, what it will look and feel like, but I want to play with the city and people’s perceptions."
I don't want to share too much myself about Gormley's Event Horizon, because the pleasures await in a personal self-guided stroll and discovery. Take my advice. Go explore the area around Madison Square Park. But be sure to gaze where the rooftops meet the sky.
The installation is presented by Madison Square Park Conservancy in partnership with the City of New York and a bazillion other sponsors. Event Horizon opened in late March and continues through August 15, 2010. It's worth visiting several times and at different times of the day. Many of the figures are located in discrete locations, so there's also the thrill of the hunt. In partnership with Mad. Sq. Art, the Municipal Art Society will conduct walking tours of Event Horizon. More information below.
Event Horizon official site
The nearby Ace Hotel, a sponsor, has a photo and video contest, as well as a special package. Click on the link to the hotel blog here for more information.
Sean Kelly Gallery's current exhibition of other work by Antony Gormley, Breathing Room II, continues to May 1, 2010. Gallery website.
Related stories on Walking Off the Big Apple:
Breakfast at the Breslin, Then a Walk
Connect the Dots: A Self-Guided Walk to Public Art in Lower Manhattan
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from April 6, 2010.