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Antony Gormley's 'One & Other' recycles Warhol

August 24, 2009 |  4:30 am
Plinth 2 Peter Macdiarmid Getty Images

The art phenomenon of the summer is Antony Gormley's "One & Other," a round-the-clock project for 100 days in London's Trafalgar Square. Ordinary people, randomly chosen, are invited to spend an hour atop a monumental granite pedestal, while Admiral Lord Nelson and King George IV strut their bronze stuff nearby.

Erected in 1841 and originally intended for an equestrian statue of William IV, the plinth was empty until 1999, when artists began to install temporary projects. Gormley's is the latest.

Like the tryouts for "American Idol" (or maybe "Britain's Got Talent"), the current project is yet one more artist's riff on Andy Warhol's dusty 40-year-old dictum that "In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." (If you want to get really cobwebby about it, all the world's a stage too.) The future has arrived.

And it's not especially pretty. I can't say what it's like in person, but whenever I tune into the live streaming broadcast of the piece, I can't help but notice just how, well, how puny Mr. and Ms. Great Britain look up there on that gigantic hunk of stone-block. It's a scale problem. The plinth was designed for a monumental sculpture, many times larger than life, in a grand public space. A poor bag of ordinary flesh-and-bones just can't measure up.

What provides the grand scale that mere physicality can't match, of course, is the insatiable infotainment media, whether corporate or individual. Modern media is plenty big enough to match Trafalgar's outsize pomp and circumstance -- and for this project, it has.

Warhol understood that too, which is why the endless repetitions of serial imagery -- 100 Coca-Cola bottles or Marilyn Monroe's lips endlessly repeated -- are a hallmark of his work. I think of Andy as the "One" in Gormley's "One & Other" and of the streaming online video, cellphone snaps, digital camera pictures, global press accounts, Flickr sets and all the rest as the "Other."  What's virtually up there on the plinth is more important than who is actually up there, which pretty much undercuts any democratizing impulse for art.

This "Fourth Plinth" project continues to mid-October. You can find the streaming online video here.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Antony Gormley, "One & Other" (2009). Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

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