The British Embassy, whose art collection we wrote about back in August, has a magnificent new item on its lawn, thanks to a chance encounter with artist Antony Gormley earlier in the year. When Gormley was in town for the unveiling of his show at the Phillips Collection earlier this year, he attended a dinner with the ambassador, Sir Peter Westmacott, and his wife, Susie, an art lover and a former curatorial assistant at the Sackler Gallery.
The embassy has some magnificent works in its collection by British artists, including a painting by Damian Hirst and two prints by Julian Opie. But the residence had nothing by Gormley, one of Britain’s most acclaimed and respected artists. Gormley offered to loan them one of his sculptures, and “Extend,” which had been languishing in storage in a warehouse in Brooklyn, seemed an ideal option.
The sculpture, like so much of Gormley’s work, explores the human body and its relationship to the world around it. Constructed from cast iron in the semblance of a body, and covered in a copper patina, “Extend” is both a philosophical statement and an exercise in engineering. Long iron “arms” stretch out in front of it, while the head and neck are as tall as the rest of the sculpture. The stomach and hips are also extended, and the feet and legs shrink quietly into the ground. The sculpture is surrounded by lush green grass and shrubbery, and its deep earth tones seem to blend into the rest of the garden, while its linear, oblong structure provides a sharp contrast to the natural surroundings.
“It’s the first and maybe the most radical of a group of extension works,” says Gormley. “I don’t know whether I can really explain what it means, but for me, I’m less interested in the body as a representation, as a figure that can be recognized, than I am in the body as the place, the dwelling in which we all live.”
Gormley was already scheduled to appear as the guest of honor at the embassy’s party for the State Department celebrating 50 years of art in embassies October 25, but the sculpture’s installation at breakneck speed gave him another excuse to visit Washington. An exhibition of his work is currently in display in New York to mark the opening of the new 22,000-square-foot Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea. “I hope that it’s kind of a catalyst for us to feel and think through our bodies about our position in space,” says Gormley about “Extend” and its new home. His sculpture’s location in a grand English garden on Massachusetts Avenue, meanwhile, testifies to Gormley’s eminent position in the art world, in Britain, and in the US.