This is a very comprehensive show, featuring lots of Gormley’s notebooks and sketchbooks, and ranging from the early Land Art-inspired work, to new experiments. Such the final room, which I visited at night, feeling the dark chill of the entire gallery space submerged in clay-ey water.
Elsewhere, there are endless variations on Gormley’s trademark rusty metal and steel. Such as the exhibition’s centrepiece: Matrix III, constructed especially for the show. A couple lay dreamily on the hard wooden floor, gazing up at the grid patterns, densely arranged around a central void.
In all, around six tones of steel are suspended from the ceiling for this work. During the day, light streams in from the high gallery’s skylight, rendering it lighter, less tangible. Each carefully-separated steel rod is just 6mm thick.
The grids are arranged according to a plan, according to Gormley. He explained: “This rebar is the inner skeleton of the environment we live in… At the core of this exhibition, I want this work to talk about an extraordinary transition: that at the beginning of this decade, we crossed a frontier to where more than half of our species are now living within the urban grid.”
How come? Well, the void in the middle is exactly the proportion of the average new-build bedroom in Europe. (It still looked bigger than many of the rabbit-hutch rooms I’ve seen in my London flat hunt, but maybe that was a trick in perspective.)
Forget land art then, Gormley is now turning towards the city. The tangible materiality of the metal is well chosen: the mesh is used for lift shafts. Like the type that are in the new builds springing up everywhere.
Anthony Gormley is at the Royal Academy (London). September 21 - December 03 2019