Tiffany Jenkins

Antony Gormley has no right to complain when the public interacts with his public art

Antony Gormley has no right to complain when the public interacts with his public art
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Antony Gormley is not amused. The artist who has installed hundreds of life-sized, cast-iron sculptures of his naked body in cities all over the world is affronted with the way a mysterious member of the British public has responded to one of the artworks.

The piece in question, which could be known as ‘Narcissism’ but is in fact called ‘Another Place', consists of 100 figures, spread over 2 miles of coastline, on Crosby Beach, north of central Liverpool, looking out to sea. Someone has given it a make over: at least nine of the statues were recently adorned. One, standing upright at just over 6 feet tall, appears to be wearing a fetching pink polka-dot bikini, with a male appendage; another a pair of bright orange shorts. A little further down the shore, one chest is marked with the name 'Mokie' and another has 'I am art' waggishly scrawled on the back of a painted blue shirt. One sculpture appears to be wearing a green top with an NHS logo painted on the left of his chest.

Although some members of the public responding to the figure’s new look on social media believe they are improved by the painted attire, it appears the artist thinks differently. Antony Gormley doesn’t like the new look: he has asked the council to remove the daubing, to restore the figures back to the original nude state. A spokesman for Sefton Council said: 'We want everyone to enjoy and interact with the impressive Antony Gormley statues on Crosby beach, which are synonymous with Sefton.

'However, following this incident, we have been contacted directly by Mr Gormley with a view of removing these permanent decorations which we will now look into.'

'Another Place' is an evocative work that has divided opinion since it arrived on the shore ten years ago; you cannot spread one hundred iron men across a sandy beach, and not expect some kind of reaction. But as long as the work isn’t permanently damaged, then why shouldn’t locals get a say in the appearance of the figures that intrude, uninvited on their space? Why shouldn't they decorate them? This is, after all ‘public art’ and paid for with millions of pounds of public money. If the artist and the Council wants to keep them pristine, they should put them in a gallery.

So much art is commissioned in our name — that of ‘the public’: metal giraffes, stone birds, simpering poetry carved on buildings, all this now litters our streets and public spaces. Gormley’s work is often the best of it, and is occasionally brilliant, as with his 'Angel of the North'. But do we really need quite so much of it and quite so many copies of his naked body?

Antony Gormley’s own website announces that he 'continually tries to identify the space of art as a place of becoming in which new behaviours, thoughts and feelings can arise'. He got what he wished for, unless he had a fixed idea of what those behaviours, thoughts and feelings should be – adoring and docile, perhaps. Gormley and the council should lighten up. If artists chose to leave their work unbidden in public then they cannot blame the public for not walking on by without taking up their paintbrushes.