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LONDON FOR FREE! – Antony Gormley at the Hayward Gallery


Antony Gormley at the Hayward Gallery

I work not far from Hayward Gallery and as I #CycleToCommute I pass it every day to and from work.

I have been eyeing out the activities happening around it for a while: One lunch break I inquired about upcoming exhibitions and lately some metal men appeared around Hayward Gallery promoting the upcoming art exhibition by Antony Gormley.

I’m a big fan of Antony Gormley, I once went to see some of his art in a small rather unremarkable room in the British museum (see and was hooked since.

So I was intrigued to not only see his art but also be part of the opening event for his exhibition.

One day, when I already had forgotten all about it, I cycled home and saw people in and around Hayward Gallery. That was it! The opening exhibition.

It was easy to get in and easy to wander around, even though it was very crowded. The English in their funny habit to cue for everything even if there’s no need for it, made it easy for me to dive in and out of Antony Gormley’s exhibition pieces.

This was very different from what I had seen at the British museum, but not less intriguing in the slightest.

The first installation was a glass cubicle filled with fog. From the outside it looked just like a room submerged in a soup of exhaust fumes. But once stepped inside it was quite scary. Because you couldn’t see anything. Even though you could see. It wasn’t like dark or closed eyes or blind. It was like really trying to see and still not seeing anything. It was actually very bright and moving. But still, it wasn’t possible to see. Very creepy, really. Feeling one’s way, waiting for the moment to get something into view, yet it wouldn’t come. It makes you feel quite lost, really. Like stepping into nothingness. But with just one step. As if you got sucked up, invisible to others, others invisible to you. I tried my way forward, slowly putting one foot in front of the other. Instinctively I raised my hand, but it felt silly, as it wasn’t like you couldn’t see anything. Finally somebody came close enough so they were in my view. Well it was a shadow appearing out of nowhere and disappearing into nowhere. I started to make some comments on this crazy situation, just to make sure others could hear me and wouldn’t bump into me. It was unavoidable though. You couldn’t help it but bump into someone. Besides that it’s a rude thing to do, it was giving me quite a fright, as I had no way of telling someone was coming or where they were coming from. At least the excuse ‘sorry, I didn’t see you’ hit the nail on the head, as yes, that was exactly how it had happened. After eternity I landed somewhere where I got the impression the end of the room must be near and indeed, there was the glass wall. Only stepping right in front of the window made you able to see what was going on outside. Curious faces looking at the cubicle, who was the exhibit now – the people outside or the people inside? The air was damp and it was humid. I didn’t want to stay much longer in this climate. Deliberately I stepped into the middle of the cubicle, where I not only knew that not many people were there – everybody had been walking along the safety of the wall – but also that the fog was the most moist and dense. A girl was spinning, she explained she wanted to completely lose orientation. I thought that’s not necessary, how can you keep your orientation in here and was astounded to find out this was true. I really thought I’d knew the way back to the entrance, which now was the desirable exit to me, but I got lost! Luckily some nice people pointed out to me where to go and with just this one step that had swallowed me in nothingness I emerged back into reality. I was clearly confused still, which was reflected on the intrigued faces that watched me coming out of what was still coming up for them. But I was glad to be out. And glad I was in.

Upstairs was another intriguing piece of art by Antony Gormley: Everybody was queuing up for it, so it must be something interesting. Strangely though this queuing makes people forget what is actually around them. I looked inside the room that they were queuing in and realised there was some art in there that I wanted to see. Yet the people were so busy queuing they didn’t seem to see the art. So I asked if I could get in, as actually I wanted to see the exhibition pieces.

It was more of these metal men, just that this time they sat in the corner. But what corner and what perspective and what dimension was unclear, as they sat on the ceiling or on the wall or upside down or simply on the floor. Just the act of installing a life-size metal man on the ceiling is extraordinary and I was amazed to see them hanging out there as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

I realised all these people were queuing up for something else still, so again I excused myself in front of the cue, as again, these people didn’t realise the art to see by queuing for something that someone at some point had decided was worth queuing for and the others had followed suit.

It was another room, which was spiked with finger thick glass tubes. Only two people at a time were allowed inside and they looked rather silly, bending around those glass sticks or kneeling down to look what was inside them. People outside were intently watching them, wondering: Are there pictures in those tubes? Is there anything to see? Well if they had walked around the room first to look inside from the outside through precisely one of those tubes, they would have known: No, there was nothing to see. Maybe some distortion. The only thing to see actually was the people inside, wondering if there was something to see. Who was the object of display now, the art or the people trying to make sense of it? I, for one thought it was the people inside that room. So I decided not to make a fool of myself, but rather watch the others walk into that room like marionettes in a play they didn’t know had started yet.

So much art makes thirsty, so I walked straight over to a marquee which was buzzing with people and yes, it looked like they had drinks in there. The gallery assistant watching the entrance asked me for my ticket and despite looking at him in amazement that I actually had to present something to enter, I replied with a simply ‘jaja’ and moved on.

Inside there was champagne, some canapés and some herbal something drink that obviously was trying to appeal to a new target group. It was not that interesting a crowd, so I wanted to leave, but I wasn’t allowed to take my drink with. As I’m not the kind of person who wastes a glass of champagne I had to stay until I had finished it. Which takes some time, because champagne I drink with indulgence.

Lucky me, I ended up talking to a lady in the same situation as me, also wanting to get out, but having to drink her champagne first. Interestingly enough, this was the first time during that evening that I indeed ended up queuing, queuing to get out though. I had a very brief but fast exchange of intellectual views with this lady, which was so sharp and to the point and really made me think quick to be able to provide equally interesting insights, that it really exhilarated me.

As quick was the farewell when we had finished our drinks, thus I entered the exhibition with new enthusiasm.

A gallery assistant picked up on my good energies and made me aware of an art piece on the floor that at first glance could have been mistaken for a doormat. But it was the ripple of a footprint. Two footprints actually, so the ripple merged into a circle surrounding those imprints of the feet. We quickly left that topic though and wandered from subjective interpretation of art to international politics to disparity.

As the exhibition was closing, I had to cut our conversation off though as I wanted to see the last exhibition room, which had metal webs displayed. They looked like webs of fabric, some emerging out of a human form, some so dense it wasn’t possible anymore to detect if they just represented chaos or had some order in them. But made from metal, something very stiff and unmoving, very much in contrast to the form that it was bent in.

Security made sure people were on their way out, so I left, too. Only to bump into Grayson Perry, turner prize winner in 2003, whom I heard saying: “Where’s that? Somewhere downstairs, isn’t it?”, which made me briefly think if I should follow to try and crash the next arty party, but I must admit I just didn’t feel like it.

The input of impressions had been enough for me this night.

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