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Antony Gormley's most significant show in the UK for over a decade opens in London
Antony Gormley, Clearing VII, 2019. Approximately 8 km of 12.7 mm square section 16 swg aluminium tube, dimensions variable. Installation view, ‘Antony Gormley’, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 21st September to 3rd December 2019 © the Artist. Photo: David Parry / © Royal Academy of Arts.

LONDON.- The Royal Academy of Arts is presenting a solo exhibition of the internationally acclaimed British sculptor Antony Gormley (b. 1950), the most significant in the UK for over a decade. The exhibition brings together both existing and especially conceived new works for the occasion, from drawings and sculptures to experiential environments, that have taken on the RA’s Main Galleries across all 13 rooms.

Gormley sees the exhibition as a ‘test site’; engaging the senses, employing scale, darkness and light, and using elemental, organic and industrial materials. The works interact with the BeauxArts galleries, creating a series of distinct encounters that come together as a collective experience. It is a summation of Gormley’s enduring concern with the inner dark space of the body itself and the body’s relation to its surroundings: the body as space and the body in space. Gormley said, “there is no subject until the viewer arrives and begins to engage.”

The first work, Iron Baby, 1999, can be encountered in the Annenberg Courtyard. This life-size form of a new-born baby in cast iron is tiny within the scale of the courtyard, suggesting human vulnerability but also the vigour of life.

In the galleries, early, rarely-exhibited works from the late 1970s and early 1980s show the experimental origins of Gormley’s practice, with links to Land Art, Performance and Minimalism. Works featured include Land, Sea and Air, 1977-79 and Fruits of the Earth, 1978-79 in which natural and man-made objects are wrapped in lead. This process of encasing objects in lead evolved into Gormley’s well-known ‘body case’ sculptures, from the 1980s onwards, which use the artist’s own body as a tool, material and subject. There are a series of concrete works from the 1990s including Flesh, 1990 (Duerckheim Collection). Each volume contains the body form as a void in a position that tests the enclosing mass. The interior is only visible through the hands, feet or head that break the surface of the block.

The exhibition draws the visitor into a series of whole-room installations, some reconfigured especially for the RA’s galleries, and invite them to actively engage with their bodies as they navigate the space. Lost Horizon I, 2008 (PinchukArtCentre, Kiev, Ukraine) features 24 cast iron figures set in different orientations on every wall, floor and ceiling, challenging the perception of which way is up. Clearing VII, 2019 consists of kilometres of coiled, flexible aluminium tubing arcing from floor to ceiling and wall to wall; a ‘drawing in space’ which encircles the visitor. Matrix III, 2019 takes over the largest gallery: a cloud of intersecting rectangular dark steel mesh suspended above head height, each encasing a space equivalent to the average size of a European bedroom. For Gormley, it is “the ghost of the environment that we’ve all chosen to accept as our primary habitat” and a work that continues critical dialogue with perception, “by constructing an optical maze in which it is impossible to reconcile foreground, mid-ground and background.”

Host, 2019 fills an entire gallery to a depth of 23cm with a vast expanse of seawater and clay, evoking the depths from which life emerged, it offers a confrontation with elemental substance, an experience that changes as the hours of autumn daylight diminish. Since the work was conceived in 1997 it has only been exhibited three times and this is the first time it is being shown in the UK. At the centre of the exhibition in the Central Hall are two of Gormley’s early ‘expansion’ works; Body and Fruit, both from 1991-3. These imposing hollow pieces expand the form of the body to create objects that have the characteristics of both bomb and fruit. Each weighing several tonnes, the works hover centimetres from the floor.

Alongside sculpture, there is a rich selection of works on paper, many of them using unusual materials such as crude oil, earth and blood. For Gormley, drawing is a core, everyday activity that runs parallel to his sculpture, exploring the same concerns through different means. This is a rare opportunity to see significant early drawings such as Mould, 1981 (Private Collection). Other key series represented include the Body and Light drawings made with carbon and casein, the Linseed Oil Works (1985-1990) such as Double Moment, 1987, and the Red Earth drawings (1987-1998). An accompanying display of Gormley’s workbooks reveals the artist’s continual investigation of ideas that lead to the sculptural works.

Antony Gormley follows in the Royal Academy’s tradition of celebrating its Royal Academicians, continuing a strand of programming that showcases some of the most important living artists in the world including David Hockney, Anselm Kiefer, Ai Weiwei and the forthcoming exhibition of Marina Abramović.

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September 28, 2019

Antony Gormley's most significant show in the UK for over a decade opens in London

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