There’s a whole lot of Tony at the RA. Just room after room of Gormley, Gormley, Gormley. He’s a series of staccato pixelated blocks, an exploding cloud of frazzled steel, a silhouette chomped out of white bread. Everywhere you look, Antony Gormley’s there.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The Gorminator has become one of the UK’s biggest living artists by using his own body as a way of navigating life, the universe and everything via monumental sculpture, that's his whole schtick.
The first Gorms you encounter here are all contorted shapes made of slabs of steel. He’s crouched over, bent double, lying down, slumped against the wall. It’s like walking into the world’s most disorganised Pilates class.
You then get to feast on some earlier works, including little lead apples and that very silly silhouette in bread (remade in 2019). ‘Clearing’ is better, a whole room of twisting steel circles that force you to bend and twist to get through. You’re physically affected by the structure before emerging into a bright room with a single figure in it. It’s a neat metaphor: nature collapsing around you before leaving you bereft and alone, a solitary human faced with the immensity of the universe. It’s good. It clicks.
But the most physically imposing work is also the best. ‘Cave’ is a truly monumental construction of interlinked steel boxes. You enter, bowed down as if genuflecting, and emerge into a central space with barely any light. You’re within the body, wobbling about in its metal guts, dwarfed, contained and utterly overpowered by it. It's grim, austere, funereal, and actually quite powerful.
And it plays perfectly on Gormley’s central theme: man is just a speck in nature’s grand game. We’re these fragile, living, pooping, breathing, shagging things just trying to figure out our place in this terrifying universe. To ram it all home, Gormley has flooded one of the RA’s galleries ankle-deep with water and beige moss. The effluent of life, it’s all here.
The truth is, I’m a Gormley cynic. I don’t think using your own body as a symbol for the struggle of universal existence is all that clever; I think his drawings – of which there are a lot here – are dull at best, sub-graduate show guff at worst; I think a lot of the sculptures here are a bit weak – the baby sculpture in the courtyard is enough to put you off art forever; I don’t know what the point of this show is, coming after the Hayward Gallery’s much better Gormley exhibition in 2007; and I think he might be the most one-note artist ever.
But the thing is, if you’re going be one-note, you’d better be really good at playing it. And you’ve got to give it to Antony Gormley, he really is.