Climb Inside A Giant Antony Gormley At His Blockbuster Royal Academy Exhibition

Antony Gormley, Royal Academy of Arts ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 56 months ago

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Last Updated 18 September 2019

Climb Inside A Giant Antony Gormley At His Blockbuster Royal Academy Exhibition Antony Gormley, Royal Academy of Arts 4
Human figures abound, and we'd expect nothing less from Gormley © the artist. Photo: David Parry

I'm walking through a crowd of Antony Gormleys while other clones look on from the walls and the ceiling. These statues are all casts of the artist himself and make up one of several spectacular installations in this major exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts.

Gormley is an artist who has made a career out of replicating the human form, usually his own, and there are plenty of bodies in this show — hunched over, leaning against the wall, lying on the floor. And that's just the first room.

Step inside a giant Antony Gormley and navigate the darkness © the artist. Photo: David Parry

The most impressive is a giant figure in the foetal position that when you duck down you can venture inside. It's dark in here so I have to feel my way, leading with my hands to avoid a sore head as it gets gradually darker to the point where visibility is almost nil. Once I reach the centre the light is allowed to filter back in and the space opens so I can stand again — it feels spiritual to step back into the light, as if you've been on a journey of self-discovery.

At the other end of the scale a tiny iron baby lies abandoned in the massive courtyard space outside of the Royal Academy. It looks so vulnerable that I want to pick it up, cuddle it and take it somewhere warm. This is what Gormley does best, use simple concepts to create works that trigger our deep rooted human emotions and instincts.

Climb into this sculpture without setting it clanging © the artist. Photo: David Parry

The work that's the most impressive initially looks like a toddler's scrawl blown up and made 3D with aluminium tube. It has to be navigated by gently stepping through it to reach the centre. Any misstep sets the whole structure clanging, much like that game where you have to guide a hoop along a wire without touching it — lest the buzzer sound. It's in this slow methodical navigation that I become conscious of my own dimensions and how I fit into the space around me — something most of us never give much thought to given much of our world has been shaped to accommodate the human form. Children will no doubt treat this sculpture as an adventure playground but there's a serenity to the experience for those willing to give it enough time.

One of his trademark figures © the artist. Photo: David Parry

There are a few rooms of his drawings in this show that are largely forgettable, but it doesn't matter in the grand scale of things. Speaking of which, there's a room with clay and seawater so that primordial nature reflects and contrasts with the gilded architecture of the Royal Academy. It's yet another breathtaking and thoughtful installation in a show that's filled with them.    

Antony Gormley is on at Royal Academy of Arts. 21 September-3 December. Tickets are £18-22.

Readers may also like our list of where to find other Gormley's in London