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Who will stand up for Antony Gormley’s art?

5 August 2022

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Pity the artist who is interested in abstraction… well, up to a point. Antony Gormley has caused consternation among the students of Imperial College London thanks to the university’s proposal to install a sculpture titled ALERT in the newly built Dangoor Plaza.

Gormley has proposed a six-metre-high sculpture comprising a number of steel blocks that are supposed to represent a crouching man. Rakewell feels sure that the reference to Rodin’s Thinker is intentional.

Imperial College London Antony Gormley sculpture

Rendering imagining Antony Gormley’s ALERT on site. Courtesy Imperial College, London

The students have rightly noted that this particular configuration of blocks – supposedly a man kneeling down – might just as easily be interpreted as a man with an erect penis. Showing a flair for close reading, they note, ‘The name ALERT could also be understood as referring to the statue’s phallus being erect’.

The students generously concede in their motion to block the installation of the sculpture that there is ‘nothing inherently wrong with phallic imagery in art’. However the ‘phallic interpretation’s preoccupation with the penis could be considered inappropriate for a grand public display, especially given the statue’s size.’ Gormley, Rakewell notes, with his Angel of the North and Another Place has always been an artist interested in size.

ALERT by Antony Gormley

Image courtesy Imperial College, London students’ union

This is not the first Gormley sculpture to cause a furore. His Quartet in Alderburgh was considered by local residents, to resemble ‘sex toys’. It can be tough casting one’s vision in bronze, but someone has to do it. At a time when the erection of ALERT is under such scrutiny, who will stand up for art?

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