A Discussion entitled The Conclusion of Antony Gormley’s Exhibit at the Hermitage, a Contemporary Artist in a Classical Museum, PRO ET CONTRA
On 13 January, 2012 the Hermitage hosted a discussion dedicated to the exhibit entitled Antony Gormley. Still Standing. A Contemporary Intervention in the Classical Collection. It was intended as an opportunity to wrap up this important project. Is an experiment of this sort useful and necessary for the Hermitage? Is it interesting for professionals and the museum-going public? Should exhibits of this sort be installed directly in museum exhibition halls that are changed and adapted to accommodate them, or does contemporary art require separate, specially equipped spaces?
The round table was opened by Sophia Vladimirovna Kudryavtseva, the Head of the Youth Center Department, who called attention to the multifaceted nature of the project, and, considering all the novel features of this museum experiment, encouraged the participants to share their impressions of the exhibit.
The participants included Dmitry Yuryevich Ozerkov, the Head of the museum’s Contemporary Art Department, Lyudmila Ivanovna Davydova, the Custodian of the Department of the Ancient World, who very successfully conducted classes for students and museum visitors during the Antony Gormley. Still Standing. A Contemporary Intervention in the Classical Collection Exhibit, employees of the Department of Western European Art and the Scientific and Educational department. The participants’ opinions turned out to be divided.
Dmitry Yuryevich Ozerkov noted the great interest provoked by the interaction of the two phenomena, modernity and antiquity, that this exhibit explores.
Lyudmila Ivanovna Davydova noted that, for her, the concept behind the exhibit was distinguished by its beauty and clarity, and that its most important result was the dialogue it created with the viewer. “It isn’t important what sort dialogue it was, peaceful or aggressive; the important thing is that it was created. The resonance of the British sculptor’s work was only enhanced by antiquity, and antiquity, on the other hand, resonated differently thanks to Antony Gormley’s pieces.”
Marina Koldobskaya, the Director of the Saint Petersburg branch of the State Center for Contemporary Art emphasized that “exhibits like this have long since ceased to be a rarity in Europe. The major museums of the Old World often do things that are rare or have yet to catch up on Russia.” For this very reason, it was very pleasant for her to see this exhibit in the walls of the Hermitage. In the artist’s opinion “contemporary and classical art coexist, they live together within the world’s culture, and their so-called home is the museum. The process of their dialogue, which engenders a certain degree of interactivity, is by no means an intrusion; it’s more of a friendly visit.”
Igor Lebedev, the Head of the Creative Photography section of the Hermitage Students’ Club, noted that for him “the most important part of this entire was not a dialogue, but rather the interaction between the viewer and the exhibit. This interaction was available not only to those well versed in art, but also to non-professionals. Sculpture is a prototype of man. In this context, sculpture is any viewer. It is us, and that really is lovely; if people saw it, though could get closed to works of art and even fall in love with them.”
Victoria Yakovlevna Snegovskaya, an employee of the Scientific and Educational Department of the Hermitage, who worked with students throughout the course of the educational program prepared by the Hermitage Youth Center, described that great interest in Antony Gormley’s work shown by the public. In her opinion, it was caused by how “physiological” his work is. “As a result, practically everyone wanted not just to get closer, but to take on a similar pose,” she noted.
Alexander Mihailovich Butyagin, the Head of the Department of Classical Archeology of the Northern Black Sea region, expressed a more categorical opinion; the exhibition project provoked a negative emotional reaction, since, in his opinion, events like this are inappropriate within the halls of the State Hermitage Museum. “One might imagine this sort of project as a one day experiment, but a long-term exhibit of this sort is destructive and harmful for the viewer.”
The sculptors who arrived to participate in the discussion, people that know and feel the creative process inside and out, shared their professional opinion. According to Marina Spivak, “in the halls where the exhibit was held, there are several points that a person can find and then become part of the exhibit, the path from Gormley, to antiquity, the viewer, and back. This idea is understandable and close to everyone, which is precisely where the genius of the project lies.”
Fifth year students from the Department of Museum Science and the Protection of Monuments of the Philosophy Department of Saint Petersburg State University also shared their feelings.
Arina Okorokova noted, “My initial impression was resistant, but afterwards, something changed and I began to like it. There should be exhibits like this – they’re interesting and invite the viewer to feel something.” In her turn, Maria Shmatko said that “it is proper to compare not only Gormley’s work and classical sculptures, but contemporary life and ancient times in an of themselves as well, in order to feel that one is an intermediary.”
Various questions were raised during the course of the discussion. Did Antony Gormley’s sculptures benefit from proximity to classical art, and what space is best for them, the halls of the New Hermitage or an entirely natural space? Did the fact that these classical sculptures, which traditionally are positioned above the viewer, were removed from their pedestals for the Antony Gormley. Still standing. A Contemporary Intervention in the Classical Collection exhibit make them less sacred? The round table discussion brought together both proponents and detractors of this sort of museum experiment.