Francis Outred, Christie’s Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, describes the poetic power of the British sculptor’s majestic work, which was purchased by the Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa in October for £5,296,250
Formed from a lead sheet which was hand-beaten around a plaster cast of the artist’s body, and with an 8.5-metre wingspan, Antony Gormley’s A Case for an Angel I set a new world record for the artist in October 2017. It was one of the highlights from a night that broke the record for an evening of Post-War and Contemporary Art auctions in Europe.
Made in 1989, the work marks the first appearance of the angel in Gormley’s practice. The subject would come to a head with his iconic Angel of the North (1998), the vast Cor-Ten steel figure that towers over Gateshead in northeast England.
‘A Case for an Angel I had always struck me as uniquely poetic,’ says Francis Outred, Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art. ‘It’s not only a physical protective shell, but also makes a case for the power of human imagination. It demands a leap of faith from knowledge to possibility.’
‘Gormley is one of the great modern sculptors, and this work is universal in its message’
The work hadn’t been seen in public for almost a decade; it was last shown in the front hall of the British Museum in 2008. ‘Gormley has said that in an age of meta-images and digital interactions he wanted to refocus on first-hand experience, and standing in front of his works you become painfully aware of your own physical presence,’ says Outred.
‘One of the delights of this project was having the artist contribute directly to the catalogue,’ the specialist continues. ‘He always speaks so eloquently about his practice and gave Christie’s a wonderful interview.’
The eventual buyer, Yusaku Maezawa, posted an image of his purchase on Instagram, announcing it would enter his museum collection in Japan. Having visited Gormley’s studio two days earlier, he declared that speaking directly with the artist had allowed him to better understand the work’s meaning.
‘For me, Gormley is one of the great modern sculptors, and this work is universal in its message,’ Outred avers. ‘The sale was rich in post-war British art, and it was fantastic to see such strong global interest. I am thrilled the work will be put on public display, where it can continue to reach new audiences worldwide.’