In the ego Olympics that is the art world, Antony Gormley is basically Usain Bolt. Seriously, it takes a spectacular level of self-importance to build a whole career out of statues of yourself. All those figures you’ve seen everywhere, even ‘The Angel of the North’ – they’re all based on him. You have to be a mega-douche to see yourself as a cypher or symbol; some sort of everyman figure that people are meant to relate to and see themselves in. Especially if you’re a six-foot-tall wealthy white man.
So yeah, something about Gormley grates. A lot. So why does this show of new sculptures not just work, but work really, really well?
The big space in the gallery has been subdivided into a maze of rooms, each home to some configuration of self-portrait sculpture. There are fragile wire Gorms, strict square geometric Gorms, hunched blocky rusting Gorms, big concrete Gorms, mini steel Gorms. In the centre of the space there’s a forest of hundreds of tiny steel figurines, like an abandoned future battlefield seen from the sky.
Then there are the huge works: massive three-metre-tall blocks of concrete, an immense cube of black steel, 12-foot-high human figures. It’s a little overwhelming, navigating the maze and finding these shapes, like walking through the ruined reliquary of an abandoned city.
One work is a tunnel: a long, human-shaped corridor that you can walk into. You stumble through the darkness, fumbling for the end, then turn around to be blinded by the light from the other side.
The only dud here is a sculpture of a figure hovering inches above the ground: it just looks like a dude balancing on his boner, which is a neat party trick, but an ugly work of art.
But when it works, this exhibition forces you into a sort of relationship with the sculptures – you have to navigate them, walk into them, step through them. It makes you think about your body, about your place in the city, and in the hecticness of your life. It leaves you a little breathless and reflects it all back at you – even if that reflection looks a bit like a tall old white guy.