Antony Gormley’s self-titled exhibition at the Royal Academy received great praise from art critics and simple fans alike. Showcasing work old and new it was a focus on time, place and existence that perhaps the polarised society of 2019 needed.
Ever since someone took me to see Gormley’s Blind Light exhibition in 2007 at the Hayward Gallery, I’ve been a little bit obsessed. Something about it spoke to me. Seeing the iron casts over the rooftops of my favourite city, somewhere I called home was amazing. It took us a while to book tickets for the current exhibition that has just ended at the RA: Antony Gormley. However, we did make it on it’s penultimate day. The only reason we put it off, was not because we didn’t want to go, but more because of the price.
We fully back exhibitions that you have to pay for, if it continues to make art and information accessible to all, and with the status of patrons at the RA, they could afford to make things better for people that need it. There are other exhibitions on, both paid and free at the RA and it is a phenomenal building, well worth a visit. If you have a student card or are over 60 then it’s also a bonus for concession prices too, and Art Fund Art Passes work there too.
If you’re unaware of him, Gormley is a sculptor, world renowned for his focus on the human body and existence. To Gormley, the body is a ‘vessel for feeling’ shared and individual and a place. A place of experience, emotion, memory and other, and that is what the exhibition was about, place.
The thirteen rooms and themes showcase his work from his early work, his sketchbooks all the way up to 2019 works. Tim’s favourite was the first room, slabworks, where 14 steel sculptures were strewn across the floor. In this, the rectangular slabs, at first seem like piles of metal, until you have the lightbulb moment like we did. At that point we realised that they were human forms, rest, hunched, standing, you name it.
For me, I had two favourite pieces. The first, the blindingly obvious Lost Horizon I from 2008. Iron casts of Gormley’s body defies gravity and removes space with the bodies all over the room. The art may be perpendicular to the architecture of the room, but they are purposefully disorientating. As the title of the work implies, Lost Horizon denies us the distant horizontal line that we normally use to orientate ourselves.
The second for me was a work called ‘Clearing VII’ from 2019. It is what Gormley calls a ‘drawing in space’. Made from 8km of aluminium. The aluminium is coiled and allowed to expand until it is restricted by the walls, floor and ceiling. It challenges the boundaries of sculpture as the space occupied by the object and the viewer are one and the same. The work becomes an almost spatial field and have to chose our engagement with it from our route through, becoming part of the artwork.
The most striking piece could be argued to be co-ordinate VI (2019). Although there were pieces where you traveled through tunnels in pitch black; wondered how they got into the extravagant room without damaging the old walls; this one was deeper than that. Three highly tensioned steel bars look as if they are travelling at the speed of light. They make physical the abstract notion of the horizontal, vertical and projecting x, y and z axes. Passing through multiple rooms and not touching at any one point. They heighten our awareness of our position in space and time. There always seemed to be a promise of them touching yet their distance gave a feeling of infinity.
Whenever you go to an exhibition at the RA it is bound to be busy. They get only the greatest of great artists. Unfortunately this often leads to the visitors being entitled and aggravated. Often they’re wondering why younger people are there or taking photos or enjoying it in their own way. Perhaps it’s time they moved with the time like the artists that they are visiting.
Having said that, the RA have had some amazing events on with the exhibition. Particularly for teachers! Keep your eyes peeled on their website for more for next time. This time, aside from providing space to work, meet the artist, ask questions and see the exhibition; the RA also provided food and made sure all students from all backgrounds were treated the same.
If you’re looking to see more of Antony Gormley in London you can see him at the White Cube, Mason’s Yard for free until January 18th 2020. He also features in our Liverpool and Margate posts as his work is up for free in the landscape.