10 December 2004 – 15 January 2005
White Cube Hoxton Square
American artist Steven Gontarski is a sculptor who deals mostly with the human figure, using a sleek, elegant and fetishised aesthetic that borrows from both Classical sculpture and the flamboyant excess of Baroque as much as from underground music and alternative youth subcultures.
Gontarski began his career making sewn figures: amorphous, fluid forms that were executed in shiny silver material, their soft bodies elongated and sublimated to create reduced and sexually charged sculptures. More recently he has been working with fiberglass in rich, luxurious colours; attracted by its brilliant gloss finish, where the viewer's gaze is both reflected and deflected by the mirror-like surface. Since 2002, Gontarski has been making sculptures and drawings under the title of Prophets – quasi-spiritual, quasi-fantastical nude figures that are both aspirational and fictional, weaving possible gothic narratives with an eroticism that seems at once decadent and impure in its direction.
'Prophet Zero' is a slightly larger than life-size male figure, struck in a dramatic and romantic pose, arm shielding face, nude but for its medico della peste beaked mask. The work points to dark myths such as the Venetian doctors who wore birdlike masks during the plague years, or the infamous ‘patient zero', a Canadian airline steward who introduced AIDS into North America. The body of this figure is anti-natural in its heightened realism, its legs too slim and feet willowy and toeless. It is both theatrical and funereal, its face shrouded by a swathe of fabric evoking not only luxurious sexuality but also the veil of mourning. The sculpture alludes to a certain spirituality but is highly ambiguous, hinting at possible narratives and silencing others.
The Fourth Prophet (Through the Eyes of the One Left Behind) I (2004) was Gontarski's most ambitious sculpture at the time, a corroded and partial male figure that seems consumed and eaten away by its own passion. An arm twists and disappears only to reappear attached to ultra-slim hips in an elegant hand, its finger pointing in benediction-like fashion to a place in the distance. Apocalyptic and terrifying but also a figure of pure, eroticised fantasy, The Fourth Prophet sits somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious, desire and its own destruction.
Gontarski has always been interested in antique sculpture and, in particular, the way that drapery was employed to enhance an already perfect physique. In these works, the physique is not one of muscular power but rather a Bowie-esque androgyny that is not absolutely out of place in its classicism despite its stylised references to the willowy anti-heroes of Gothic music read through the decadent ruins of JK Huysmans.