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Gormley in London

I have to start by saying that I have always admired Gormley: what he does, the way he sees the world, and how he creates art. And with that, I include his finished product. The caducity of life, the ever-changing faceting of his works, the ageing of his pieces, the various perspectives, the abandonment to the elements. All of these, make his works unique and beautifully so. But I also find his pieces very moving, and tender, fragile. I feel moved to tears. It’s like if he plays with us and winks at some of us. He gives some people something to play with while in the meantime, others can stop, look and feel. Maybe because I am not British and I feel Brexit heavily (more than I would like) I feel the experience of the portrayed of being a refugee very present within me, and in his work. Maybe because I felt the surge of pain for the death by drowning of the Syrian little boy stranded on the beach [and at the same time the anger because previously a little black girl in a green and pink dress drawn that no one paid attention to] I felt some of the pieces pushing some of my emotional boundaries.

The sadness of that single man, head bent, looking at his feet, not moving. I felt within me his heaviness of despair and defeat. Of offering my life and my soul to people who know nothing about me and who have the power over me. And I felt anger towards the visitors who felt more apt to take pictures as paparazzi of the pain, with no acknowledgement of his own physicality and the presence of his soul.

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So I enjoyed the other pieces, the links in between, and the void and spaces:

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I liked the experiencing of the exhibition: I paid attention to my own expectations and reactions. The eagerness of the experience and how annoyed I felt because I thought, and still think, that there were too many people to live such an exhibition as it should have been.

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I liked the simplicity and congruence, from start to finish, of the whole exhibition: simple lines, mono-colour in its own various tones and shades. Beautifully presented and curated.

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I am only very sorry that I did not have the time to back, again, and experience the journey once more. I bought the official catalogue, which on purpose I have not opened yet, because I want to experience all of my memories first, and notice which ones are staying for longer and which ones decide to come back and want to be re-lived. It is like a bite of wholesome food I don’t want to spoil with strong cheese or a tarty drink.

Besides too many people, pushing and talking and being in between me and the pieces, and unruled kids running around and people with their faces stuck in their phones, I enjoyed every single moment of it.

Still, I am adding here as a reference, reviews I found online on the exhibition:

There’s a whole lot of Tony at the RA. Just room after room of Gormley, Gormley, Gormley. He’s a series of staccato pixelated blocks, an exploding cloud of frazzled steel, a silhouette chomped out of white bread. Everywhere you look, Antony Gormley’s there. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The Gorminator has become one of the UK’s biggest living artists by using his own body as a way of navigating life, the universe and everything via monumental sculpture, that’s his whole schtick. The first Gorms you encounter here are all contorted shapes made of slabs of steel. He’s crouched over, bent double, lying down, slumped against the wall. It’s like walking into the world’s most disorganised Pilates class. You then get to feast on some earlier works, including little lead apples and that very silly silhouette in bread (remade in 2019). ‘Clearing’ is better, a whole room of twisting steel circles that force you to bend and twist to get through. You’re physically affected by the structure before emerging into a bright room with a single figure in it. It’s a neat metaphor: nature collapsing around you before leaving you bereft and alone, a solitary human faced with the immensity of the universe. It’s good. It clicks. But the most physically imposing work is also the best. ‘Cave’ is a truly monumental construction of interlinked steel boxes. You enter, bowed down as if genuflecting, and emerge into a central space with barely any light. You’re within the body, wobbling about in its metal guts, dwarfed, contained and utterly overpowered by it. It’s grim, austere, funereal, and actually quite powerful.

And it plays perfectly on Gormley’s central theme: man is just a speck in nature’s grand game. We’re these fragile, living, pooping, breathing, shagging things just trying to figure out our place in this terrifying universe. To ram it all home, Gormley has flooded one of the RA’s galleries ankle-deep with water and beige moss. The effluent of life, it’s all here. The truth is, I’m a Gormley cynic. I don’t think using your own body as a symbol for the struggle of universal existence is all that clever; I think his drawings – of which there are a lot here – are dull at best, sub-graduate show guff at worst; I think a lot of the sculptures here are a bit weak – the baby sculpture in the courtyard is enough to put you off art forever; I don’t know what the point of this show is, coming after the Hayward Gallery’s much better Gormley exhibition in 2007; and I think he might be the most one-note artist ever. But the thing is, if you’re going be one-note, you’d better be really good at playing it. And you’ve got to give it to Antony Gormley, he really is.


Antony Gormley’s retrospective at the Royal Academy ends in a moment of blissful release. After tottering through low, pitch-black metal tunnels and chambers, you emerge into a gallery filled with cool sea air and a briny tang. The floor of the final beaux-arts room is submerged beneath earth and seawater. This is Host, a work he’s created a number of times over the past three decades, nodding to primordial creation, the ocean that life originally crawled from and the squidgy stuff with which artists fashioned the first figures. Here, in the bastion of civilisation that is the Royal Academy, it also becomes a tacit doomy statement about climate change. It’s the beginning and the end. That’s one of the things about Gormley’s art: it goes for big statements, while being so open-ended that it can change with context, adapting to its viewers’ concerns.

This is a seriously handsome show with plenty of crowd-wowing art that aims to put “the visitor centre stage”, yet also underlines his project’s sticking points. In a recent interview, he bemoaned art’s waning ability to speak truth to power. Here, he reaches for the epic to tackle the Enlightenment dream of human progress that birthed the Royal Academy. It begins with an iron baby that he describes as a “bomb”, ripe with destructive potential but vulnerable, on the grand courtyard’s paving, framed by neoclassical walls and parked cars. No chronological retrospective, the exhibition evolves in beats, small to big, simple to spectacularly complex. Drawings track his lifelong interest in bodies and space, with a recurring solitary figure, either against the open landscape or framed by doorways, the womb, the tomb.

It’s not until over halfway through that you’ll find work that is, for most people, recognisably Gormley. The familiar iron figures based on casts of his own body fill a room, standing upright not only on the floor, but projecting from the walls and the ceiling. These are the same metal men that perched on rooftops during his show at the Hayward Gallery in 2007, and that stare out to sea on Crosby beach. Expressionless as the sphinx, they are clearly shells: it’s the world within that counts.

Gormley has spoken about closing his eyes to experience infinite space, and he’s a student of the Buddhist meditation, Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are. This is one of his driving ideas – skewing our assumptions about the bodies and world that encloses us – and he performs some dazzling feats of engineering to achieve it. His iron men defy the laws of physics. New installations include a complicated hanging cloud of steel lines and 8km of coiled aluminium tube, sprung outwards to fill an entire room. (Our recent model of the expanding universe, a 20th-century game-changer, is discussed in the show’s catalogue.) You must pick your way around it to reach a lonely figure, head bent as if lost in thought and conjured from a lattice work of steel pins that confuse surface and substance, inner and outer.

Faceless or expressionless Gormley’s figures may be, but their blankness is also an invitation to identify, appealing to our own experiences of the body, inner life and mortality. It’s partly his work’s obliging flexibility, with its all-creeds mix of humanism, spiritualism and science, which has made Gormley the go-to guy for public art. The Angel of the North is a national icon, while his body casts, found on beaches, buildings and mountains across the world, are hard to avoid.

Yet it strikes me, seeing his sculptures rub up against one of the Enlightenment’s most rarefied institutions, how pseudo-democratic these monuments are. Gormley is a white, male, Cambridge-educated son of a pharmaceuticals magnate. This wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference to his work were it not for the fact that, in using his own body, he unavoidably presents himself as an everyhuman to whom we are all asked, impossibly, to relate. Furthermore, he leaves representations of this privileged white guy around a world dominated by privileged white guys. This is a one-size-fits-all universalism that is as problematic as it always has been.

The show builds towards those dark metal tunnels, which you must stumble around as you grope towards the light. It’s the birth canal, death’s wipe-out, history’s terrors, a black hole and the path to illumination all at once. While only the bravest, least claustrophobic might dare enter, the risk ultimately proves false. It turns out there’s something in here for everyone, and that’s a problem. Gormley’s musings about bodies and being are too unfocused, and ultimately too polite, to land the political punches they attempt. Where’s the tension? Where’s the real debate?

BY: Skye Sherwin

The Observer for Art gives the exhibition a 2/5 here.

Part of me feels that who ever gave those values do not understand Gormley. But, then again, this could be just my opinion. As I previously wrote, I still want to digest the exhibition. Then, I will read the reviews and explore my reactions, if they change.


This is the UAL FAD blog re. 2019-2020 FMP
More about the artist can be found on
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