© Antony Gormley / Royal Academy, 2019

The Royal Academy’s new ambitious project — this Antony Gormley exhibition features the artist’s early and recent works, highlighting its epic scale. The exhibition shows carbon, oil, casein or charcoal graphics on paper dating back to the late 1970s, as well as his later sculptures, but the prevailing mass of objects are freshly made installations conceived just for the show. Gormley’s spectacular retrospective is artistic research, striving for deep penetration into human existence, revealed through the body and its placement, crucial to shaping sculptural patterns. How are they shown? The artist defines the body as a “vessel for feeling,” and as a “place of experience, emotions, consciousness, memory and imagination,” even though his works are abstract and depersonalized — there is no life inside objects. Gormley’s refusal in depicting psychological portraits distances the sculptures, shifting body perception to an intersubjective dimension. This responds to the inquiry of human presence: moulded iron pieces and shapes echo the sculptured physique. It is the viewer’s task to convey personal insight and emotion to stationary compositions.

© Antony Gormley / Royal Academy, 2019

If body is a place, either it can be composed or expanded through architectural exhibition’s rhythms. Slabworks (2019) is made up of 14 sharp-edged steel sculptures placed on the floor, replicating human forms between the various body positions, and yet figures remain abstract. Another large-scale installation, Matrix III (2019), features 21 suspended room-size cages, equivalent to the average width of a European new-build bedroom. Again, sculptural exhibition forms are choreographed according to human conditions. The viewer’s body is diluted into a part of the installation in the open, built-in, dark labyrinth Cave (2019). The same intimate principle underlies in the installation Lost Horizon I (2008): male man-sized sculptures made of cast iron are installed around the room’s perimeter and suspended from the walls and ceiling, loosening the horizon and disorienting a viewer who becomes inseparable from these sculptures. Gormley shows that all these architectural flowing and rhyming sculptures have a transgressive nature repeating the human body, whose hybrid embodiment is experienced by viewers’ tactile interaction with (some) artworks.

About time — sculptures are perceived as timeless provoking the dangling sense of sacredness. In some works, time is still present and expressed through change: in One Apple (1982), 53 lead apples record fruit growth from birth to ripening. An apple is a constant sign repeating in other artists’ works, referring to archaic experience. Objects necessary for survival are exhibited in the room with his early works: bowls, wood, bread, a blanket, stones. Occupying an entire Academy room, Host (2019) is filled with the seawater that is felt in the air and has a sandy bottom. The basic installation elements consist of earth, water and air — following the work’s description — and these embody the primary conditions for the origin of life: “primordial soup of matter, space and time.” Recalling the archaic time, when everything was just beginning, Gormley brings us back to the fundamental principles of life.

© Antony Gormley / Royal Academy, 2019

Nonetheless, Gormley’s exhibition has its fracture: adhered panoramic perspective burdens the exhibition with Renaissance universalism. Sculptures are represented as a generalized cast taken off human in general, nevertheless, it is always a male body. Many sculptures are cast from the artist’s body that show his ambition to take a creator’s role, and project his own image onto his creation. The patriarchal context of the exhibition is seen not only through a universal scale: whether Gormley speaks about the universal experience of human being, then why is he concealing the visibility of another body presence — a female one?

Antony Gormley is exhibited at the Royal Academy from 21 September-3 December 2019.