The UK's biggest new museum The Box announces two public art commissions

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The UK's biggest new museum The Box announces two public art commissions
Making Antony Gormley's sculpture LOOK II, part of The Box, Plymouth 1.

PLYMOUTH.- The largest multi-disciplinary arts and heritage space to open in the UK in 2020, The Box, Plymouth announces two new public art commissions by internationally acclaimed artists Antony Gormley and leading Portuguese installation artist Leonor Antunes. The two artists are the first names to be revealed from The Box’s ambitious contemporary art programme for its inaugural year in 2020. Both artists will create works as part of the museum’s opening exhibitions that will stay in The Box’s permanent collection and provide legacy by becoming part of the fabric of the city.

The Box is collaborating with these two remarkable artists, honouring Plymouth’s tradition as a city of makers and crafts people, as well as its strong historical associations with adventure and exploration. Leonor Antunes will create a remarkable fused glass design for the East Window of St Luke’s Church to be installed in February 2020. Antony Gormley’s imposing new public sculpture LOOK II, to be installed on the West Hoe Pier in May 2020.

Nigel Hurst, Head of Contemporary Arts at The Box said, “The Box is privileged to be working with two such important artists as part of its opening programme. Both make work of rigorous material integrity that investigates human-kind’s relationship with the world around us, and how craft, design, fabrication and manufacture are intrinsic to our history. These two commissions will not only form a key part of Making It, one of The Box’s inaugural exhibitions, but also provide the city of Plymouth with lasting legacies from the launch of The Box and Mayflower 400 commemorations. Antony Gormley’s Look II and Leonor Antunes’ window for St. Luke’s Church both provide compelling reasons to celebrate life in this unique city and to visit Plymouth.”

Antony Gormley – LOOK II – West Hoe Pier, Plymouth
The Box is honoured to have commissioned Angel of the North artist Sir Antony Gormley to create a new sculpture for Plymouth’s historic Hoe. LOOK II, an anthropomorphic cast iron sculpture, will be erected on the West Hoe Pier, a site where Sir Francis Chichester landed in 1967 as the first person to circumnavigate the globe by the clipper route in his boat the Gypsy Moth.

Weighing 3 tonnes and with a height of 3.7 meters, LOOK II comprises 22 individual iron blocks that have been cast as one single element to create a twice life-size figure. Gormley’s sculptural work celebrates the extensive labour and craftmanship that goes into working with natural materials like iron and draws parallels between his practice and Plymouth’s legacy as a naval city of significant international importance.

Placed on the other side of the city centre from The Box complex, Gormley’s profoundly engaging sculptural work will link Plymouth Sound with The Box and provide a source of inspiration for the people living city-wide and visitors alike. The singularity of the cast iron body encapsulates the artist’s intention to transmit our old-world admiration for the skyscrapers of New York, while linking them to our megalithic past. Migration is integral to our evolution. Rather than sentimentalise or monumentalise the departure of the Mayflower in 1620, Gormley’s sculpture will express the tension between going and staying, and the twin human desires of making roots and yearning for adventure, and a life free from the constraints of history.

By placing an artwork outside of the gallery space as part of The Box’s opening programme, LOOK II will provide a striking and thought-provoking sculpture in the public realm by an artist of international significance, commemorating both the opening of The Box and Mayflower 2020.

Antony Gormley: “I am delighted by the site and honoured that this work has been commissioned by Plymouth to look out over the sea that has played such an important part in forming the outward-looking character of these islands.”

Leonor Antunes – East Window – St Luke’s Church
Connecting the past with the present, Leonor Antunes was selected in 2018 for a major new commission for the East Window of the historic St. Luke’s Church in Plymouth. Interlinking The Box’s impressive fine and decorative arts and natural history collections with contemporary making, the fused glass window is Antunes’ first architectural glass piece. It will be presented alongside a solo exhibition of new sculptural works within the former chapel. Influenced particularly by female craftsmanship and creativity, Antunes’ new window is inspired by the end pages of the 1726 edition of the Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam by Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), the famous German naturalist and explorer. The book is part of The Box’s historically significant Cottonian Collection. Merian was one of the first naturalists to observe and paint insects directly and is considered one of the most significant entomologists in history, and a favourite of Sir David Attenborough.

In 1699, Merian travelled with her daughter on a dangerous two-year trip to Surinam, South America to research insects in their natural habitats. Often described as a ‘woman of both art and science’, her distinctive illustrations are one of the many reasons she remains the most significant botanical artists from history.

Antunes has worked closely within the stonework and tracery of the original window at St Luke’s to realise her design, collaborating with The Box’s architects, building contractors and stonemasons. The fabrication of the window is led by a prestigious specialist glass studio, Glas Mäder, based in Zurich, Switzerland. At Glas Mäder, highly skilled crafts people have created new glass panels by fusing small pieces of glass together using ancient methods to melt glass at high temperatures.

Antunes’ commission will create a beautiful key feature for the newly refurbished St Luke’s, while connecting the modern public realm with The Box’s historic collection. Located on Tavistock Place, St Luke’s was built in 1828. Through the following 140 years, it was at the centre of a thriving parish and acted as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War. When many of the residents moved to new post-war estates after their homes were bombed out, the congregation dwindled. The last regular service was held on Easter Sunday 1962 with just 54 attendees. With The Box opening in May 2020, the restored building provides an important space for the museum’s international contemporary art exhibitions.

Artist, Leonor Antunes said: “My commission began with a visit to The Box’s offsite store where I was captivated by the Cottonian Collection, and in particular by the books that are part of it. I was taken by the fact that its principal collector Charles Rogers (1711-1784) was very involved in the design of the furniture in which the rare books are stored. Visitors can see the books kept inside the cabinets, but not open them, so in some ways it is a mystery collection. It’s also very male dominated, designed and acquired by men. While opening the doors of the cabinets one by one, and observing the books stored inside, I had access to this one of magnificent hand-painted prints by Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), a woman who wasn’t recognised for her work as a scientist when she was alive but nowadays her illustrations of insects and plants from Surinam are reproduced in big publishing houses.

I was interested in revealing and enlarging a fragment of this book, not the prints, which could be an easy gesture. I chose to highlight the way the book was personalised by its owner, through the selection of the marble paper inside the back cover. I wanted to amplify what seems a minor detail, a decorative aspect of the book, which actually reveals the specificity of its content and history.

The idea of disproportions is also important in this project: the gesture of opening a drawer and looking at all the details of what is inside, and seeing it enlarged on a window, which is in essence a surface for filtering the light inside the room. Something which is stored in total blackness becomes now a device for filtering light inside St Luke’s.

Like all my projects, the other important aspect for me is the fabrication. Some of the work Glas Mäder have produced is incredible and after visiting their studio I knew the window had to be made with them. The window will be produced using a fused glass technique so the finish will not be graphic or flat, but vibrant and almost sculptural.”

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