Standing under the vast cloud, your initial feeling is of the weight of the world above you. But wait, there is a space in the centre of the cloud, a place of refuge, a place for dreaming. Like many of Antony Gormley’s works, you need to look closely at the detail, for what appears a vast metal cloud is in fact 21 cages, floating above your head as they intersect around this space that you cannot reach, a space which is the size of a typical European home in ‘Matrix III’ which Gormley describes as ‘the ghost of the environment we’ve all chosen to accept as our primary habitat’ (unless of course you are wealthy enough to own a mansion).
This superb retrospective of Gormley’s career includes works the late 1970′s to others, such as ‘Matrix III’ created especially for this exhibition and for this space, with a room given over to the drawings and sketches with Gormley uses as his creative medium, so that you can compare the drawings to the final work. Thanks goodness there are no computer aided drawings here!
Starting with a small iron baby in the courtyard snuggling up to keep warm and alive in the chilly wet British autumn, the variety is immense and visitors naturally enjoy most those with which they can interact, whether the immense connected swirling aluminium spirals in ‘Clearing VII’, the redefining of gravity with all the metal bodies in ‘Lost Horizon’, or the hidden ‘Cave’ hidden within a dark tunnel where you must feel your way to another space for contemplation.
With all these works, one of the fascinations is seeing the relationship with the mouldings, gilding and marble doorways of the neoclassical rooms of the Royal Academy. I have one complaint, however: ‘The Host’ fills one of the largest galleries with an immense expanse of seawater reflecting the walls and ceiling above. Gormley asks whether it is an image of destruction or of creation and you do wonder what would happen if the door at the far end was suddenly opened. It could have been enhanced if there had been a walkway to take visitors perhaps one or two in a time into the centre of the room, so they could immerse themselves in the work rather than just peek in through the doorway. Just a personal view!