Religious iconography is never more than a whisper away in the most significant outing of Antony Gormley’s art in the UK for a decade
The baby is lying on its front on the hard stone of the courtyard outside the Royal Academy of Arts in central London, and my sister and I are consumed with concern. The child is just six days old. “What was he thinking of, leaving his newborn out there?” asks my sister.
The infant isn’t a real baby, needless to say: but it is the cast of a real one, and that child was Antony Gormley’s own offspring. It represents, he has said, “a bomb”: a tiny form, dwarfed by the vast courtyard surrounding it, with the potential to explode outside of itself, and change everything. It’s that paradox between a form that’s both exquisitely vulnerable, and at the same time brimming with potential, that Gormley wants to highlight.
In some ways the infant out in the cold is the surprising element of this show, the most significant outing for Gormley’s art in the UK for more than a decade (to 3 December). The exhibition covers both existing and new works, from drawings and sculpture to site-specific installations, and it juxtaposes with the Beaux Arts galleries in surprisingly harmonic ways.
When I interviewed Gormley last year, he talked about the debt he owes as an artist to the Catholicism of his birth and to his monastic education at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire. It was there, he told me, that he learned about space and landscape – those elements are, and always have been, at the root of his work.