London Unlimited: Fit at The White Cube

The first instalment of ‘London Unlimited’ – our series publicising free/low cost cultural events in London – looks at Antony Gormley’s Fit at Bermondsey White Cube.

Antony Gormley’s new exhibition ‘Fit’, held at White Cube’s spacious Bermondsey gallery, is a calculated display by an assured artist. The exhibition is staged in ‘15 chambers that create a series of dramatic physiological encounters in the form of a labyrinth’ – in reality there are 15 large spaces, each containing different pieces which sort of link up and are actually quite easy to navigate.

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There is no doubting Gormley’s talent but most pieces lack sensuality and fail to make an emotional connection. His continued abstraction of the human body into blocks and lines distances the human response. Despite knowing the human figure is at the heart of Gormley’s work, at times the eye struggles to resolve the blocks and lines into bodies. And where the work is more about the space we inhabit, such as the concrete ‘Block’ or metal ‘Run’, it is devoid of feeling.

The gallery staff are extremely helpful and keen to explain the different pieces, indeed they really make the show. Without their assistance the two four-part works ‘Small Stop’ and ‘Big Stop’ were simply echoes of each other: assemblages of blocks, only becoming four praying figures once explained.

In ‘Sleeping Field’ over 500 small sculptures appear, at first glance, to be buildings laid out in a street plan. Closer inspection reveals these buildings to be individual human forms, repeated in various positions across the ‘chamber’. Once more Gormley’s adept abstraction of the body is impressive but it is bereft of the emotive quality created by the fantastic 40,000 terracotta figures in his earlier work ‘Field’.

The one exception to this disconnect is ‘Passage’ – a 12-metre narrow steel tunnel modelled on a life-size human form. Visitors are encouraged by the gallery staff to walk inside, selling it as a life-changing experience. Upon reaching the tunnel’s end, engulfed in absolute pitch black, you turn around to see a cruciform outline of a human figure filled with light. Not life-changing perhaps, but certainly uplifting.

Gormley tells us this show ‘allows forms and materials to work on us, releasing us from any expectations of what sculpture is and how it might act on us.’ Artists will and must evolve, and this inevitably alters their appeal. Through ‘Angel of the North, ‘Another Place’ and ‘Event Horizon’ Gormley has created public art that engages the human spirit. It is disappointing that this exhibition fails to do this but you cannot help be impressed by Gormley’s accomplished expertise.

Antony Gormley: Fit is at White Cube Bermondsey, London, until 6 November. Entry is free – do not be put off by the imposing entrance, the gallery staff are very friendly and informative. You could combine this with a visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum just up the road (entrance £6 for students).

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Photographer: Laura Siegler


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