Firstly, go and see this show NOW as it is only on till the 3rd of December…
Few contemporary sculptors working today are as involved with the human form as Antony Gormley, who describes the body as
‘a place of experience, emotion, consciousness, memory and imagination.’
The Royal Academy’s autumn show is invariably a ‘blockbuster’, usually looking at a movement such as Abstract Expressionism or the work of a single Academician. This results in some stunning spectacles such as the installations of Anish Kapoor (the giant block of wax slowly being squeezed back and forth through a classical arched doorway) or Ai WeiWei’s suspended bicycle sculpture and the claustrophobic models of his political incarceration. Continuing this great tradition, ‘Antony Gormley’ does not disappoint.
Rather than an imposing installation in the entrance courtyard (think of Cornelia Parker’s fabulous Psychobarn), we come across an Iron Baby, abandoned and alone on the flagstones. I first saw this piece as part of ‘Found‘, the exhibition at the Foundling Museum curated by Parker, and it has lost none of it’s impact. Once inside the show, all but three of the gallery rooms are devoted to individual or series of works. ‘Clearing VII’ is described as a drawing in space and is constructed for 8km of square section tubing wound in on itself with the the constraints of the room. ‘Matrix III’ is a seemingly floating construction of steel mesh surrounding a small internal void. It seems to defy gravity and plays tricks with our senses. ‘Lost Horizons 1’ features Gormley’s signature life size body casts arranged on the floor, walls, and ceiling. Closely related to some of his outdoor installations such as ‘Another Place’ (on Crosby Beach) or ‘Event Horizon’ (placed around the London skyline) in this setting the casts appear once again to defy the laws of physics and look as though they could spring into action at any moment…
I was lucky enough to see the artist himself explaining ‘Body’ and ‘Fruit’ to two ladies, but didn’t want to interrupt. What I wasn’t expecting were the wonderful prints and notebooks on display. I was particularly drawn to these beautiful works on paper, and intrigued by his use of unconventional materials such as crude oils, clay and blood, and the use of pigments and casein in his print making. The life sized woodblocks and oil monoprints must have proved a huge challenge to the print-makers.
Once again, the Royal Academy has created a wonderful autumn retrospective. Some have called this exhibition of Gormley’s work ‘unfocused, and ultimately too polite’ (Skye Sherwin in the Guardian) but I could not disagree more. Uniting the work is the exploration of the human form, exploring scale and how our bodies inhabit the space around us. This meditation is the ongoing preoccupation of Antony Gormley’s work, and as the curator puts it:
‘For Gormley, the body is a ‘vessel for feeling’. It is both the unique site of our individual journeys, and the one thing we all share.’
Antony Gormley is on at the Royal Academy until Tuesday 3rd December 2019.
Text and images © Jonathan Dredge