Antony Gormley’s Essere provides an insight into the artist’s personal and existential processes while seamlessly involving the viewer and the city.
London-born artist Antony Gormley seems to feel at home among Renaissance masters, whose works often tackle the same topics that he finds himself embracing some 500 years later. Varying the aesthetic and metaphysical results of the humanist subject matter that Gormley tackles could be seen as difficult, but over the course of ten years and three exhibitions the British sculpture giant has succeeded in changing his approach every time.
His 2010 installation Clearing VI at the Strozzina, which saw the arrival of a swirling mass of aluminium tube crammed into the underground spaces of Palazzo Strozzi, forced the viewer to think about space and our occupation and navigation of it by requiring our entrance into the work. The exhibition Human at Forte di Belvedere in 2015 saw the life-size figures of the installation Critical Mass take over the lower terrace of the fortress, providing a poignant contrast between humankind and the city that has hosted some of the most important developments in western thought. Gormley used the hilltop venue as a tool to arrive at what most of his exhibitions and work want to provoke: a viewer-centred investigation into the human condition and how the space around us affects our intrinsic being.
Appropriately titled, Essere shows Gormley edging away from the body’s physical relationship to space (Clearing VI) and man’s physical and intellectual evolution (Human) towards an introspective examination of the individual. This task is placed upon the visitor almost immediately when entering the Aula Magliabechiana as Passage’s (2016) man-shaped tunnel sucks visitors into a black abyss that obliges an existential examination of the self as the participant must face an unknown blackness before turning around and seeing a bright silhouette of light, signalling the end of the tunnel. By juxtaposing this installation with the oldest work in the exhibition, Room (1980), a dialogue is created and Gormley’s goal is achieved: to encourage the imaginative and physical inhabitation of the exhibition’s two core works.
Feeling Material XXXVI (2008), most likely the last-seen piece before moving on to see the three sculptures dispersed throughout the museum, is a suspended steel bar hurricane that effectively illustrates not only the occupied space of humans but the spatial outreach around our bodies. Settlement IV (2018), placed in the Uffizi galleries away from the main exhibition space, means a journey must be completed to encounter these floating blocks in the form of a horizontal figure, but the contrast with the Roman Sleeping Hermaphrodite feels overt and lacks the viewer involvement and clever manipulation of space that the rest of the show inspires.
Another Time VI (2007) and Event Horizon (2012) stand guard over the city, occupying the place where visitors usually admire and photograph the view. This takeover of a familiar space along a tourist trail causes us to question our exclusion from a location that we would normally inhabit. Gormley succeeds in making the viewer the subject of all these works, as co-producer, using our imagination, or as a participant. The invitation to take part is implicit before entering the museum, through the summons of the foreboding figure Event Horizon on the Loggia dei Lanzi, visible from via dei Calzaiuoli on approaching piazza della Signoria.
Antony Gormley, Essere
Aula Magliabechiana, Uffizi, Florence
Until May 26, 2019
The exhibition is included in the admission ticket to the museum and has the same opening hours of the Uffizi.