Royal Academy Of Arts, London Until December 3
Antony Gormley has the honour of having created a work of art much more famous than he is. The Angel Of The North has seized the public imagination like Nelson’s Column, and who knows the name of the man who created the figure at the top of that?*
The Royal Academy’s career survey focuses our attention on Gormley as an artist. It’s very beautiful to look at, to the point of tastefulness – tender and romantic. It centres on two simple ideas: the human figure, and the rendering of a line in physical form.
These prove enough for an absorbingly contemplative show.
The human body is everywhere here, and begins in the courtyard with an easily overlooked baby, hunched on the paving stones. It continues with a striking new piece of a dozen assemblages of slabs.
The Royal Academy focuses our attention on Gormley as an artist. It centres on two simple ideas: the human figure, and the rendering of a line in physical form (Earth, Body, Light, 1989)
Each roughly occupies the space of a human body, scrunched up or stretched out; the mind makes sense of these as individuals, sometimes strikingly empathetic.
There are other approaches, some direct, like a room full of casts of Gormley’s own body. A wall of sliced bread has a body shape chomped out of it. Others are indirect; tons of steel mesh hang overhead.
If, like me, you’re the same height as Gormley, you are in a position to understand that it’s hung to skim the artist’s skull.
The pieces about line are wonderful: a room filled with steel scribble from floor to ceiling, or a single straight line running through three rooms with a glorious zip (Matrix II, 2014)
The pieces about line are wonderful: a room filled with steel scribble from floor to ceiling, or (inexplicably inspiring) a single straight line running through three rooms with a glorious zip.
A piece consisting of stones carefully gradated only makes sense when you look from the larger end, and see the illusion that they are the same size. I love, too, the simplicity and grandeur of a huge room entirely filled with seawater and mud.
‘The outside brought inside,’ Gormley calls it. Like the best of Gormley’s work, it made me want to sit and gaze at it for hours.
A lovely show, full of the poetry of simplicity. I think many people will find this richly rewarding.
* The statue on Nelson’s Column was designed by sculptor EH Baily
ALSO WORTH SEEING
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire Until October 27
It’s not often that art exhibits make the headlines, but such was the case last weekend when an 18 carat gold toilet was stolen from Blenheim Palace. It had just been installed by the art world prankster Maurizio Cattelan.
One wonders whether the theft was a stunt.
As for the show overall, it features 20 works (now 19) dotted around the stately home where Winston Churchill grew up. Most show an engagement with Blenheim’s history.
Enter the library and one sees a schoolboy kneeling in prayer. Up close, it turns out to be Hitler, begging forgiveness for his sins (Him, 2001). His presence seems bold
In one eye-catching exhibit, a stuffed horse hangs from the ceiling – a nod to the palace’s initial owner, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, a cavalry soldier. Enter the library and one sees a schoolboy kneeling in prayer.
Up close, it turns out to be Hitler, begging forgiveness for his sins. His presence seems bold in the birthplace of Churchill.
Alas, the gold toilet was the show’s highlight. It was in the bathroom next to Churchill’s old bedroom. This luxurious object, made for the most mundane of acts, mocks the gaudy excess in many homes of the super-rich.
One hopes it reappears soon.