Anthony Gormley at the Royal Academy

Host, 2019. A large room of the Royal Academy has been sealed, the floor laid with mud and then covered with several inches of water.


Dear Anthony

Over the years you have built a fabulous and well-deserved reputation built on your major and iconic public sculptures such as the Angel of the North and the figures lining Crosby beach. They have engaged the public, made people think and brought a smile to many faces. Only last weekend, I smiled as I look skywards at the University of East Anglia and saw one of your figures standing guard on the rooftops.

You are clearly the best known British sculptor at work today. But to really cement your reputation you need the imprimatur of a successful major London exhibition. So your show now on at the Royal Academy is The Big One. And it a real challenge. The scale of the RA exhibition space is huge, the demand for a mix of retrospective pieces with a substantial body of new work is demanding, and there are few artists who have the vision and ambition to rise to this challenge. This is the show which could  put you up there on the global stage with Ai Weiwei, David Hockney or Anselm Keifer who have all take the RA by storm with major career-defining exhibitions.

Anthony, given how important this is, I’m sorry to say that you have fallen short. The overwhelming sense of the enormous show is that the content is not quite there, the ideas too few and flimsy to dominate the space, too much that is derivative of other artists, such as the great land artist Richard Long.

I am always suspicious when the supporting material for an exhibition strays beyond telling me what I am looking at and tells me how to interpret it. So when I see a room full of your metal figures on the floor, the walls and the ceiling I recoil when I am told “gravity appears to be defied, and space folds in on itself: bodies project from all sides, at odds with one another …. As we live on a ball and not a flat plane, the works around us could be understood to represent the natural orientation of humans around the globe”. Anthony, I think you are leading the witness.

And when I visit Host, a room filled with six inches of water and clay, I do not sense that it “embodies the the raw conditions in which life might emerge, a kind of primordial soup of matter, space and time”. Nor do I smell the sea. I smell bullshit.

The show will however been deemed a success. The crowds are thronging in which is create financially but works against the contemplative nature of your work which requires quiet, space and time; none of them readily available when I visited.

I had gone with high hopes and great expectations. I am sorry to have been so disappointed but my disappointment does not detract from your previous achievements.