Florence, Uffizi Galleries, Magliabechiana hall: here, from February 26 to May 26, an exhibition called “Essere” (‘being’) marks the return of artist Antony Gormley and his works to Italy.
At least as far as one can see from the outside, Antony Gormley is pretty distant from the “genius & madness” stereotype. His outfits and demeanor are never extreme; not even provocative, you would say.
While attending one of his exhibitions, you could definitely mistake him for a visitor, unless you know his face, of course.
Yet, speaking of his art shows, Antony Gormley has often been physically “present” at them in multiple ways, since he chose to use precisely his own body as the subject-object and concrete storytelling tool of his archaeological-anthropological-sculptural-architectural search on the human shape as a container of memory and transformation.
His sculpted bodies are vessels for constantly evolving minds, each time faced with different architectures, scenarios, landscapes, geometries and spaces.
Essere, the latest chapter of a quest to understand the relation between space and body, sees Gormley’s attempt to engage a dialogue between two famous works of his artistic production: Passage, 2016 and Room, 1980.
The Uffizi’s Magliabechiana hall is now the ground of an eternal battle, physical and mental, between the human body’s static and dynamic modes, and between the two realms we refer to as imagination and reality.
But these themes have always intrigued Antony Gormley and his nature of “old school” artist, whose academic background was nonetheless enriched by important moments of experimental education.
With this exhibition, Gormley is now back to a country where he had already left some marks. To mention one, his 2006 installation Time Horizon, in Calabria, where he scattered 100 full-scale iron sculptures of himself over the Scolacium ruin site area, letting them “interact” with Greco-Roman architectural remains from a distant era and bringing to life a theoretical time horizon of impossible co-existence.
But Antony Gormley and the infinite representations of his own symbolic self had already appeared in Florence, too: in 2015, the exhibition Human, hosted in the areas of the Renaissance fortress Forte Belvedere, displayed 60 casts of Gormley’s body (borrowed from his series Critical Mass) and 43 architecture-like representations of human bodies (from the series Blockworks). The exhibition helped visitors “update” the way they looked at the historical architecture, which had changed over the centuries turning from fortress to museum-like artifact. Gormley’s art revealed its new nature and the shift in its meaning from “power” to “paranoia”.
And Antony Gormley has crushed the audience’s certainties countless times.
Think about Firmament, hosted by London’s White Cube Gallery in 2008: Antony’s replicas threw off the viewers’ equilibrium, looking as if they had won gravity, coming from an “elsewhere” in which the concepts of vertical/horizontal and top/bottom don’t exist.
Again, in 2010’s Breathing Room, the internal structures of the human body, made of tendons and veins, became glowing geometric spiderwebs that lit up and “breathed” to encase the visitors’ bodies.
Antony Gormley’s works possess a timeless poetic character and carry on a silent cultural revolution that proceeds with no hurry, like a wave, and undaunted, like a mission. The vision of the statues of the installation Another Place in Crosby Beach, Liverpool, is something difficult to forget: covered in a thin layer of snow in the cold winter of 2018, with their legs half-sunk in the sand, looking at a sea that is horizon-destination-fate-departure-arrival, they are still arising questions and giving answers that, now more than ever, not only feel extremely timely, but even – from a visionary perspective – “migrant”.