Antony Gormley review: Artist pushes the boundaries of the Royal Academy with his huge sculptures
Antony Gormley is one of Britain’s most famous living artists, with his sculpture career dating back 45 years. He tends to focus his creations on the human form – usually his own – with his latest exhibition attempting to raise our awareness of the bodies we inhabit.
The artist’s new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts has taken over 13 rooms, with Gormley molding and adapting the Georgian rooms to fit his large-scale installations. The Academy has had to get some of the rooms water-proofed and reinforced to support the weight of some of the pieces. The exhibition features work throughout the decades, including his rarely-seen, early pieces from the 1970s. Also on display are many of his sketchbooks so you can see the progression from idea to fruition as a physical sculpture.
Before even entering Burlington House, you could be forgiven for nearly tripping over the first Gormley piece – ‘Iron Baby’ (1999) – in the courtyard. The sculpture is a newborn baby curled up in a ball, apparently inspired by the artist’s daughter. A contrasting piece – the strength of its iron with the vulnerability we usually associated with newborns.
From the beginning of the exhibition, Gormley’s presence is everywhere. ‘Slabworks’ is a series of metal figures that many would associate with the artist due to the prominence of similar pieces across the country. The shapes lie, stand and sit in various directions and contortions. Nearby is ‘Mother’s Pride’, a recent recreation of an old piece made out of white bread. A man’s (presumably Gormley’s) silhouette has been eaten out of the bread, with the natural expiration of the material displaying an evident reason why it had to be recreated for this year’s exhibition.
One of my favourite artworks was ‘Clearing VII’, an interactive sculpture which takes over the whole room. You’re invited to tread carefully as you make your way under and over 8 kilometres of black aluminium tubing – a 3D visualisation of a child’s scribble. The feeling of being over-powered by the scale of the art continues with ‘Lost Horizon I’, a series of 24 life-sized male figures placed around the room – hanging from the ceiling, walls and the floor. I was hugely impressed by Matrix III – six tons of steel mesh suspended from the ceiling in a square-ish cloud.
Nearing the end of the exhibition is ‘Cave’, a humongous tunnel of interlinked boxes made with 27 tonnes of steel. We had to join a queue to enter the low passage, where you are instructed to keep to your left as you walk into the pitch black abyss, finally catching a glimpse of light and a pathway to escape. It was a disorientating experience as I tentatively grappled in the dark, which made the sheer size of the tunnel feel even bigger. Unfortunately, one of the rooms containing ‘Host’ – an empty room filled with water on a bed of clay – is only visible during daylight hours so I didn’t get a chance to see it.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Gormley, it’s worth checking out the exhibition. The interactive status of many of the sculptures mean it’s more fun than most art displays, and there is plenty of variety to enjoy.
- Antony Gormley is on until 3 December 2019. At the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. Open daily 10am-6pm, late opening on Fri until 8pm. Tickets: £18-£22. For more information, visit the Royal Academy of Arts website.