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Model by Antony Gormley

01/26/2013

Model Antony Gormley

Eschewing the daily grind for some weekday cultural nourishment we wander across the Thames to the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey. It’s a few minutes walk south of London Bridge station and is one of three White Cube galleries in London. From the outside it’s a relatively unremarkable low-rise building; an old 1970s warehouse that opened as a gallery in 2011. Inside there are three exhibition spaces of varying sizes painted entirely in white. The minimalist decor makes it feel like you’re inside a white cube.

The gallery is currently staging an exhibition of Antony Gormley’s latest works entitled “Model”. Gormley is perhaps best known for the Angel of the North perched atop a hillside on the A1 south of Newcastle. He’s also responsible for Another Place on Crosby Beach on Merseyside where dozens of weathered cast iron replicas of his own body face out to sea.  Like most of Gormley’s work this exhibition focuses on the human body and, in particular, examines its relationship with architecture. The centrepiece is the huge “model” in the largest gallery that is part sculpture and part building; a horizontal human form constructed from one hundred tonnes of steel. It’s over 100 feet long and comprises a series of interconnected steel boxes.

This is the first time that it’s been possible to look inside one of Gormley’s sculptures. We enter the sculpture at its feet and begin to explore, continually bending, crouching, twisting and turning as we make our way from one section of the body to another. Some parts let in light from the surrounding gallery but others are cloaked in darkness and it forces us to regularly change our pace, careful not to bump our heads on the corners of any of the twenty four steel boxes. Hence the reason why we were asked to sign health and safety disclaimers before we entered the gallery.

Eventually we arrive at what must be the head and turn a corner into almost complete darkness. On a weekday lunchtime the gallery is relatively quiet. All we can hear is a few footsteps and muffled voices from elsewhere in the building. Unable to make out the dimensions of this particular box in the dark, we stand still for a while unsure as to whether we can go any further. The darkness is something we’re not used to and it feels like Gormley is letting each person set the limits of their experience of this sculpture. It’s like one of those road systems where the local council has withdrawn all road signs and traffic lights and created a shared space for motorists and pedestrians to negotiate. It heightens our awareness of the space and people around us rather than simply being directed by lights or signs.

Eventually we make our way back through the body towards the feet and out. Back in the gallery, surveying the outside of the body we try to trace the route from foot to head. The sculpture is so big that at no point in the gallery is it possible to see it in its entirety.

Elsewhere, in the other galleries, there are dozens of much smaller figures on display. All are made from blocks just like the “Model”.  Some are easily recognisable as pixellated human forms but others appear more like scale models of tower blocks. There’s an auditorium at the rear of the building showing a series of short films about Antony Gormley’s earlier works and it’s fascinating to discover the ideas behind each sculpture.

The exhibition is free and is typical of how Gormley makes his work accessible to the general public. Next, there are plans for a South Yorkshire version of the Angel of the North (the “Man of Steel”), to tower over the M1 between Sheffield and Rotherham, a symbol of the industry on which both towns grew. And I like how the location of Another Place on Crosby Beach within walking distance of Marine Football Club allows supporters of Northern Premier League football to combine an afternoon of football and modern sculpture.

Model runs until 10th February 2013 and you can read more about it here; http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/antony_gormley_model_bermondsey_2012/

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