If, like me, you spend much of your time walking around in a fog, you’ll feel right at home in British sculptor Antony Gormley’s latest exhibition at Sean Kelly Gallery, “Blind Light.” Its centerpiece (and the source of the show’s title) is a room-sized installation, a luminous glass enclosure filled with a thick mist, tendrils of which curl out of its entrance seductively. Once you go in, you quickly lose sight of everything. The room’s parameters disappear into whiteness; other people, whom you may have glimpsed upon entering, melt away before you; your very hand, held out at arm’s length, becomes its own ghost. Faced with this blank infinity (think: eternal rest), shock and disorientation soon give way to panic, for our sense of security, in architectural space, depends to a large extent on knowing where the exit is. Unseen, are we also forgotten? Can we be certain we still exist?
The meteorological condition this work evokes is called “whiteout,” a type of weather that strikes fear into the hearts of high-altitude climbers, Arctic explorers, and the like, when, under the diffuse light of overcast clouds, the snowy surfaces of mountains and icebergs blend into the pale, vacant sky. Each footstep, under those conditions, becomes an act of faith in the continuity of land beneath it. Existentially, the piece recalls that limbo to which Dante, in Inferno, confines the souls of infants who have died before they could be baptized. For what is a person without a horizon, after all? A creature without a past or future.
In addition to this foggy installation, the show includes several very beautiful freestanding, hanging, or wall-mounted sculptures, abstractions based (as is much of the artist’s work) on the cast and molded form of his own six-foot, four- inch frame. But, like Blind Light, their focus is not on the figure per se as an object of visual perception, but on an almost mystical sense of embodiment—conjured at the limits of visibility, and echoing viscerally within us.
How to explain the broad, populist appeal of this profoundly unsettling art? (Gormley’s retrospective at London’s Hayward Gallery last summer, which included Blind Light, set records for public attendance.) My four-year-old claimed to be terrified by “the cloud sculpture,” yet he kept going back for more. Perhaps, in our society of the spectacle, the greatest show is just to take all that away and see what remains to us.