Unusual Suspension of Antony Gormley sculpture

17th November 2016

The National Portrait Gallery has called on the expertise of Unusual Rigging to dramatically suspend a life-size sculpture by Antony Gormley as part of Antony Gormley – OBJECT,  the artist's first display at the gallery.

OBJECT 1999, is a sculpture of the artist’s body cast in iron, and occupies a position of maximum visibility from the ground floor, and in passing from the escalator to the Gallery's second floor.
Speaking of the decision to bring Unusual Rigging on board to assist with the display of this prestigious display, Allan Tyrrell, the Gallery's engineering manager, explained: "Some years ago I saw an exhibition at Tate Britain, where a Harrier jet was suspended from the ceiling; through my contacts in the International Association of Museum Facility Administrators, I found out that Unusual Rigging had carried out this work. I spoke to Robin Elias after an initial meeting with Antony Gormley and Paul Moorhouse, the curator of the OBJECT 1999, and discussed the possibilities for this installation."

The brief presented to Robin was to devise a solution for the suspension of the figure in the main hall. Robin explained: "For the sculpture to hang in the position required, one of the first things we had to do was put a hanging point into the ceiling by going through the floor of the restaurant above.  We then had to be able to access that hanging point from below using a spider cherry picker in order to rig the statue 17m up in the air. The main challenge here was sourcing a machine that would reach that height and also fit into the Gallery's tiny lift, so we could get it into the building."

Allan added: "This wasn't the only obstacle. The lack of structural record drawings for the building, and the ability to operate in a closed environment, moving equipment a number of times through various phases of the operations, and finally moving Object 1999  through the Gallery while it was closed, all made for interesting challenges for the Unusual team. However, with great expertise and confidence, they found a way to overcome every issue which both the building and the artwork threw at them."

Allan worked closely with Antony Gormley, who visited the gallery three times to discuss the installation and also on the evening the final works took place. One of his key requirements was that the cable suspending the figure would appear to disappear into both the statue and into the ceiling with no sign of fixtures or fittings. Robin said: "We ended up devising an anti twist stainless steel wire rope with a thread on the bottom which screwed into the statue's head seamlessly. This enabled us to achieve the right orientation, ensuring the statue wouldn't spin. The end result is a very aesthetically pleasing, minimalist piece."

Allan added: "As an engineer, it was a pleasure to work with such a professional team, to have confidence that we would achieve the end result with the least trials, and the knowledge that the installation came to an end point exactly as planned. This is the first time I've worked with Unusual Rigging, but I would not hesitate to recommend them in the future to other galleries and museums when solutions to such installations are required."

Paul Moorhouse, curator of Antony Gormley - OBJECT  concluded: "The artist worked closely with the Gallery on the position of the figure in space over the escalator, and he is delighted with the result."

Click for larger view