Peering through New York Clearing (2020), Antony Gormley’s installation at the tip of Pier 3, I took notice of the skyline of Lower Manhattan, which is visible in the background. As a response to the orderly logic of Manhattan’s urban grid, Gormley has unspooled 18km of 25mm square-section aluminium, lashing it to itself here and there with steel lathing until it resembles a sizeable ball of yarn, a cache of razor wire or a bird’s nest, depending on how hospitable toward it you feel. It rises to 15m or so, and encompasses about the same area as a basketball court. The press release calls it a ‘quantum drawing’, and any child would be happy, despite rules against it, to amuse themselves in such an alluring playground.
Otherwise, for adults, it’s hard to see any similar merits. There are some technical aspects to applaud. The work’s many points of intersection with itself are held together by multiple steel ribbons, so that particularly dense clusters resemble the unsettling nests of wires found atop, say, Tokyo telephone poles, though, to me, they exhibit an uncanny similarity to the informal watering and ventilation systems my mom devised to grow cacti in her backyard year-round. As with one of her ad hoc greenhouses, it is equally impossible to discern in New York Clearing where one thing starts and another ends. In reality, the best part about Gormley’s construction may not be the thing itself, but its shadow, which collapses the composition’s airy linework into a dense, spatially disorienting photogram, as if László Moholy-Nagy had made a work on the adjacent sidewalk.
Visitors may be momentarily distracted by Gormley’s three-dimensional scribble, but it is no match for the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan. They simply tower over New York Clearing, broadcasting the names of such corporate behemoths as Verizon and AT&T across the harbour. The corporate context is not inappropriate for the sculpture. New York Clearing is a commission of ‘Connect, BTS’, a global public art initiative supported by K-pop superstars BTS. According to its website, the programme ‘aims to redefine the relationships between art and music, the material and immaterial, artists and their audiences, artists and artists, theory and practice’. And I suppose it does: in 2020, global brands, seeking to insinuate themselves into every facet of public space, fund ‘pop ups’ and ‘activations’; effectively public gatherings that allow them to conduct social listening. In practical terms, this means scraping Instagram for data on everyone who tags, or even visits one of these temporary monuments; algorithms are already sophisticated enough to identify particular backdrops, especially unique artworks like New York Clearing. While place making is always fraught with contradictory interests – the surrounding park itself doubles as a flood wall to protect neighbouring apartment buildings – Gormley could unravel 384,400km of square-section aluminium, enough to reach the Moon, and still this corporate space could contain it.
Antony Gormley, New York Clearing, Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 3, New York, 5 February – 27 March 2020
From the March 2020 issue of ArtReview