They stand like totems in a row, peering down from the top of the Rocky steps, 10 massive sculptures, each two tons of cast iron, crafted by renowned British sculptor Antony Gormley.
They seem to be formidable sentinels or, perhaps, a wary welcoming party, waiting for the approach of strangers.
The 10 pieces, collectively called STAND, are a temporary Philadelphia Museum of Art installation, on view through June 16,
Timothy Rub, director and chief executive of the museum, called STAND “a remarkable installation" whose highly visible placement on the terrace helps the museum engage visitors “by moving out into the community beyond the four walls of the museum and activating the remarkable civic spaces around it.”
Perhaps people in the community will find comfort in these iron lookouts, and, after running up the steps without incident, will continue on into the museum itself. What could be inside?
Gormley, 68, was knighted in 2014 for service to the arts, and is known for evocative works like Another Place, a series of 100 cast-iron figures set on a Merseyside beach, where they look out to sea. Those figures are based on Gormley’s naked body.
In a statement from England, the artist said he wanted the pieces on the Art Museum steps to engage the viewer, eliciting emotional reactions.
“This exhibition is incomplete without the subjective witness of the citizen: Each work in its different way calls on him/her to simultaneously project and recognize internal affinities” with each giant element of STAND, Gormley said. He wants the “experience of walking up the 72 steps to be felt.”
“This is an exciting opportunity to see what sculpture can make us think and feel," Gormley continued. "What can it do to and for us? Can it have a revelatory or diagnostic function? Can it work on us to recognize our true selves and allow collective space to again be a space in which personal truth can arise?”
There will be a formal unveiling of the work on the morning of next Thursday, Jan. 24, with Gormley on hand. That evening, beginning at 6, he and Rub will have a formal “conversation” in the auditorium of the museum’s Perelman Building. The event is free, but tickets are required.