In September 2019, the Royal Academy of Arts will present 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 will bring together both existing and especially conceived new works for the occasion, from drawings and sculptures to experiential environments, that will take 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 will interact with the Beaux Arts galleries, creating a series of distinct encounters that will come together as a collective experience. It will be 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, will be encountered in the Annenberg Courtyard. This life-size form of a newborn baby in cast iron will be 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 will show the experimental origins of Gormley’s practice, with links to land art, performance and minimalism. Works featured will 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 will be 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 will also draw 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. Alongside sculpture, there will be 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 will reveal the artist’s continual investigation of ideas that lead to the sculptural works. Antony Gormley will follow 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.
The exhibition will be on display from September 21, 2019 to December 3, 2019.