Over the last 40 years, British sculptor Antony Gormley’s work has been exhibited at some of the most famous galleries and public places around the world. Meanwhile, in parallel with his work, the artist has studied archaeology, anthropology and art history.
He arrived at the press conference on Mykonos casually dressed in a white t-shirt, as if he had been in a hurry to get on the last boat from Delos. Fit and energetic for his 70 years, sunburned but happy, he looked like a man who had completely succumbed to the charm of the island hosting his latest exhibition – the rock in the middle of the Aegean said to have been the birthplace of Apollo. “It’s the ideal setting for my work – and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Gormley stated.
The 29 “bodyforms” – human-shaped iron sculptures (including 5 new pieces commissioned by the nonprofit organization NEON) have been installed at the archeological site on Delos, in an exhibition titled SIGHT.
“This exhibition is an exceptional opportunity for a wide audience to engage with Gormley’s work and be reminded how central art is to the human story,” said the co-curator of the exhibition and director of NEON, Elina Kountouri.
Everyone involved in the exhibition seems to have been completely won over by Delos. A product of a collaboration between the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades and NEON, the pioneering exhibition proved complicated in its execution.
Special constructions were needed in order to place and support the artworks “without damaging a single Delos stone,” said Demetrios Athanasoulis, Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades.
The sculptures, some of which are very large and extremely heavy, were brought to the island by helicopter, and architects, archaeologists, technicians, and the artist all worked together with the team residing on the island to figure out how to best place them so that when they leave, they will leave no trace.
The Archaeological Museum of Delos
In the Archaeological Museum, in the middle of a room, one of Gormley’s bodyforms lies on the floor. “On its belly, with the body towards the ground, while all of the statues surrounding it stand erect,” said the artist, describing the positioning.
The humble museum was built in 1904 at the expense of the Archaeological Society at Athens. Since then it has suffered major and unfortunate changes to its exterior, but even it made a positive impression on the artist, who appreciated the “innocence and dignity” of the museum, commending its simple and straightforward way of displaying the exhibits, the natural light, and the clean air that “allows the silence of the broken statues to be heard.”
One of the most impressive aspects of the SIGHT exhibition is how it assimilates into the space without imposing its presence. Respectfully presented, it doesn’t disrupt the view of the ruins. It’s a “natural experiment”, as the artist puts it, which is realized through the interaction between environment, creator and viewer.
This attitude is fully in keeping with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades’ wishes regarding the island, which is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. With a 4,520,000 euro budget from European Union funds, provided through the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework), a proposal has already been submitted to the Central Archeological Council (KAS), to restore the island’s emblematic Temple of Apollo, a large part of the ancient districts, and to renovate the museum.
“But not a radical renovation,” said Dimitris Athanasoulis, “because we don’t believe that this museum has a place on the island in the long run. One has to look for new ways to build museums in environments that remain untouched by the modern human presence. The structures mustn’t compete with the ancient buildings. We have already presented a framework of principles on how to deal with Delos, as a whole, to KAS. We want the museum and the archaeological site to harmonize. We know it’s difficult, but they found it interesting.”