Later this month, The Box, a new £46 million museum and heritage centre will open in Plymouth that will bring together six Plymouth-based national collections. The Box’s inaugural exhibition, titled “Making It” has ruffled some feathers, though, for a commissioned sculpture by well-known artist Sir Antony Gormley that will be included in the show and soon call Plymouth’s harbour home.
Gormley is a British sculptor perhaps best known for the Angel of the North, a monumental steel and copper sculpture located in the north English city of Gateshead erected in 1998. The work, entitled LOOK II, set to be installed on Plymouth’s West Hoe Pier will be an abstracted human figure made of 22 cast iron blocks “stacked like a house of cards but substantial like the stones of Stonehenge.” When completed, the work will stand 12 feet tall and weigh nearly three tonnes.
LOOK II will sit at the place where Sir Francis Chichester finished the first and quickest solo sail around the world in 1967. It’s intended location in Plymouth is also significant as it’s where many have set sail, heading out into the open ocean. The Mayflower, which headed towards the Americas 400 years ago this year, is one of many voyages that took off from the coastal city.
For some, it is hoped that LOOK II will become a place of pilgrimage, much like the Angel of the North has become since its installation. “We wanted something world class, and we have got it,” Plymouth city council leader Tudor Evans told The Art Newspaper. Another in favour of the work, Plymouth artist Richard Allman, said the work is “exactly what we need.”
However, Gormley’s planned sculpture does not have the favour of everyone, much in part due to concerns of cost and maintenance. According to Plymouth officials, the cost of the statue cannot be disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement signed with the artist. This has led to objectors to worried that the work will cost taxpayers dearly to keep LOOK II maintained. Other detractors believe the work will become a place for “tombstoning,” or a specific type of jumping into the ocean that can be very dangerous, and still, some are concerned for the stability of the statue’s base. One person noted that the ocean as well as storms that hit the city have wreaked havoc on the pier before, according to the Plymouth Herald.
While the sculpture has been a work in progress for a while for Plymouth, its installation coincides with more people taking interest in the lack of diversity amongst sculptures and their artists across the UK. The legacy of LOOK II has yet to be determined but it’s one sculpture entering a different climate for public artworks.
The opening of The Box as well as “Making It” were originally meant to open earlier this year but were postponed due to the pandemic. “Making It” is meant to “contrast the labour intensive and wrought nature of making and fabricating artworks of material integrity” while highlighting the city’s history of makers and crafters. In addition to Gormley’s work, “Making It” will feature works by Leonor Antunes and Christopher Baker.