It seems sculpture is now firmly planted in the industrial and technical at the Royal Academy. Starting earlier this year with Bill Viola’s video installations and then Phyllida Barlow’s architectural structures, the RA now brings an extensive exhibition of Turner Prize winner (1994) Anthony Gormley’s previous and current work which is as equally monolithic as the work of his contemporaries. Best known for the unmissable Angel of the North spanning the Gateshead horizon, the Royal Academician and knight focuses on the relationship of the human body to space.
There are a lot of human forms, mostly adult male, mostly of Gormley because that is his trademark after all. Gormley takes his form as muse to great heights (literally) with 24 cast iron figures of himself: Lost Horizon I from 2008. The few exceptions include a foetal baby (Iron Baby 1999) lying squat and initially unrecognisable and rather questionable in the Annenberg Courtyard. And then there are the slabs and blocks which cleverly mimic human form or suggest an absent body by a simple imprint such as Flesh, the concrete crucifix with finger and footprints.
Images Clockwise from top left: Lost Horizon I, 2008 ; Body and Fruit, 1991/93; Flesh, 1990; Clearing V, 2009.
In addition, Gormley brings colossal, industrial art to the regal galleries of the Royal Academy. At times the commodious Beaux-Arts galleries struggle to fit the brutalist structures which probably work better outdoors. However, the juxtaposition is effective. Clearing V is a swirling tangle of aluminium; Cave, is an ominous pile of metal boxes reminiscent of mine shafts. These are objects to explore and enter - Cave with trepidation for the claustrophobic. The installation Host is not interactive, mind you, and comprises a gallery room filled with water from wall to wall on a clay bed of peculiar growth. Staff might be kept on their toes minding this one.
There is a detachment to Gormley’s sculptures. He presents his form in stiff poses, cast in iron or absent as cut-outs.
Even though he uses himself as muse (and en masse this can appear repetitive), he isn’t remotely narcissistic. His face is blank; his body anonymous as if embalmed. The works are powerful but not emotionally sensitive or endearing. In the end, this is an exhibition to marvel for its magnitude and engineering and the impact of Gormley’s inventive mind.
Main Galleries 21 September – 3 December 2019
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD