Gormley is better known for casting his own body and placing the resulting sculptures on the roofs of buildings and in the tidal zones of beaches. A chorus of these avatars occupy the central room of the exhibition, standing to attention like an eerie, naked legion on the floor, walls and ceiling. These are heavy, cast-iron figures and the logistics involved in this installation caused the Royal Academy quite the headache. In fact, it took three years to adequately reinforce the building for this exhibition.
Another feat of engineering was involved in suspending six tonnes of steel mesh from the ceiling of the gallery's largest room by just 10 thin rods. Matrix III (2019), is constructed from large rebar cubes and forms an impression of a building, like the ghost of a house, we are told. It could also be an architectural plan of sorts, rendered in three dimensions, although that reading is much less romantic.
Antony Gormley, Clearing V, 2009. Installation view, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria © the Artist. Photo: Markus Tretter
Gormley describes his work Clearing VII (2019) as a ‘drawing in space,’ an idea that can be extended to many of his sculptures. Made specifically for this exhibition, this installation is constructed from almost 8km of flexible steel tubing, which was coiled and then ‘released’ so that its unravelling lines expanded to fill the room. Visitors are invited to pick their way through this gallery of metal scribbles, and, as with much of this exhibition, those who are not paying attention might just end up in a tangle.
The most spectacular room in this show is filled with cuboid structures made from industrial rolled steel. It is possible to walk around it, but the more adventurous are invited to duck into a tunnel and enter complete darkness. Once you reach the centre and are able to stand, you will find yourself in a cave of sorts, which is dimly lit by the light filtering in through the gaps in the tumbled boxes. There is a sense of discovery in reaching this inner room, which feels both natural and architectural. The darkness is linked to Gormley’s belief that we all hold within ourselves an innate knowledge of the universe and deep space, a philosophy born from his interest in meditation.
Left: Antony Gormley, Earth, Body, Light, 1989. Earth, rabbit skin glue and black pigment on paper, 38 x 28 cm © the Artist. Right: Antony Gormley, Body and Fruit, 1991/93. Installation view, Malmö Konsthall, Malmö, Sweden © the Artist. Photo: Jan Uvelius, Malmö.
In contrast to the many tonnes of steel, iron and lead in this exhibition, the last gallery concentrates on softer, more organic materials. Host (2019) consists of a room flooded with seawater, with a layer of Buckinghamshire clay lying at the bottom. Here are the raw materials for sculpture, the primordial ooze from which art emerges. Nearby are drawings made from earth, pigment and even Gormley's blood, which consciously tap into the aesthetics of cave painting and rock art.
To some, Gormley’s philosophies, laid out as they are here, may seem a little wishy-washy, but there is plenty to take your time over. This exhibition is designed not to instruct visitors on the artist's life and progression – it hasn’t been conceived as a retrospective – instead it is arranged to be experienced. This is a show that encourages psychical engagement, and for that reason alone, is the perfect antidote to the Royal Academy's more academic offerings.
|What||Antony Gormley exhibition, Royal Academy|
|Where||Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Green Park (underground)|
21 Sep 19 – 03 Dec 19, Daily 10am–6pm. Friday 10am–10pm
|Website||Click here for more information|