Charles Ray’s Archangel (2021) was conceived for an exhibition in Paris. Shocked by terrorist attacks like the one that occurred in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015, Ray envisioned the archangel Gabriel, a guardian figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, alighting onto unstable ground.
This initial inspiration was subsequently filtered through what the artist has called a ‘tangled heap’ of personal and cultural references, including “illustrations from primary-school catechism textbooks.” In the final work, the title is the only direct trace of the original idea.
The sculpture — an adult male figure perched precariously but gracefully atop a simple box — was carved from Japanese Cypress (Hinoki) in Osaka by expert woodworker Yuboku Mukoyoshi and his apprentices using a single block of laminated timber. Like much of Ray’s work, Archangel crisscrosses the historical and art historical timeline. While the figure’s exposed torso and outstretched arms evoke a Christian crucifixion scene, his rolled up pants, flip-flops, and man bun identify him with the Contemporary moment.
Photographed as part of the Exhibit Charles Ray, Figure Ground on View Through June 5th, 2022 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.