Eight iron men, some old Y-fronts and a neon tube

Antony Gormley | White Cube<sup>2</sup>, London Ant Noises 2 | Saatchi Gallery, London
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The Independent Online

During the mid-1960s, the American Pop artist, Ed Ruscha, began a series of pictures that portrayed the Los Angeles county art museum burning to the ground. Leaving aside the rank ingratitude of this - the museum has several Ruschas in its collection - these works marked some kind of low point in the relationship between artists and art institutions. For much of the past century, the former have viewed the latter with open hostility. The trouble is that modern artists perceive themselves to be modern. Museums, on the other hand, smack of preservation, which smacks of old age. As Gertrude Stein sagely observed of the opening of New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1929, you can either be modern or an art museum, but not both.

During the mid-1960s, the American Pop artist, Ed Ruscha, began a series of pictures that portrayed the Los Angeles county art museum burning to the ground. Leaving aside the rank ingratitude of this - the museum has several Ruschas in its collection - these works marked some kind of low point in the relationship between artists and art institutions. For much of the past century, the former have viewed the latter with open hostility. The trouble is that modern artists perceive themselves to be modern. Museums, on the other hand, smack of preservation, which smacks of old age. As Gertrude Stein sagely observed of the opening of New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1929, you can either be modern or an art museum, but not both.

You might like to bear all this in mind as you walk around two new contemporary art exhibitions in London this week. The first, Antony Gormley's Drawn at White Cube 2, deals with the whole problem of institutionalisation by using the works in the show to overpower the institution in which it is shown. The second, Part Two of the Saatchi Gallery's "Ant Noises" series, makes you feel that Ruscha may have had a point.

One obvious way for a plastic artist to get back at art galleries is by attacking their physical fabric. Gormley may not have stooped to arson, but his new sculptures - cast, as ever, from his own body - are the next best thing. Since Vitruvius, architects have used the drawn proportions of the human body as a way of generating the proportions of things like White Cube 2. What Gormley has done is to expose the underlying human aesthetic of the gallery's single room by filling its eight corners - four on the floor, four on the ceiling - with cast metal copies of himself.

These use the extended lines of the artist's body to delineate the lines of the gallery's architecture: thus Gormley's upright torso may follow the vertical join between two walls while his splayed legs point along the horizontal between the walls and ceiling. (A quite different, and inarguably impressive, part of the sculptor's anatomy also plays a role in this process. Either Gormley's hand slipped during casting or Mrs Gormley is a lucky woman.) By turning his own body into an architectural element, Gormley reduces the gallery's architecture to a mere extension of himself. The rough-cast figures are rich in suggestive imagery - Leonardo's Man, Pompeiian mummies, crucifixions - but the trick is that we find ourselves looking not at a set of historic artefacts contained by an art gallery, but at an art gallery contained by a set of historic artefacts. The museological boot is on the other foot.

By contrast, the works in "Ant Noises 2" clearly know their place, which is as tradeable commodities in a private collection. Yes, there are a number of fine new pieces in "AN2". Jenny Saville's Host, a painting of a pig on a slab, shows that controlled lack of control which gives her work a kind of greatness. It isn't the picture's dimensions that lend it authority: it is the unknowableness of Saville's relation-ship to her subject, her absolute reticence about what she paints. Sarah Lucas's The Pleasure Principle, a clever new installation of repro furniture, neon tubing and assorted pairs of Y-fronts, goes in for the same kind of deadpan, although in this case the work has sibylline things to say about British sexuality.

The problem with "AN2", though, is the same one on which Ms Stein so wisely put her finger. When the Royal Academy staged its "Sensation" show in 1997, it blunted the edge of that group of artists whose whole point was their edginess. In trying to make the RA look like a happening place, "Sensation" made us think of Damien Hirst as a potential Academician. Anagramising "Sensation" into "Ant Noises" suggested that the Saatchi Gallery had spotted this trap and was, like, hip enough, man, not to fall into it. What actually made "Ant Noises 1" the success it was, though, was that its central work - Hirst's Hymn - seemed to set out to subvert the Saatchi Gallery.

Hymn, you will recall, was the 30-foot anatomical doll for which Charles Saatchi paid £1m. Hirst's work responded by being so very big that even Saatchi's titanic spending-power (and his gigantic showing-space) was dwarfed by it. Hymn only just managed to squeeze under the pitched roof of Boundary Road, suggesting, à la Gormley's iron men, just where the power lay in this particular patronal exchange. The outsized Hirst ashtray in this latest show, Horror at Home, just doesn't cut the mustard. Without Hymn at its centre, "Ant Noises 2" is merely the collection of a very rich man: some of it good, some of it bad, but all of it Saatchi.

Antony Gormley: White Cube 2, N1 (020 7930 5373), to 14 October; "Ant Noises 2": Saatchi Gallery, NW8 (020 7328 8299), to 26 November

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