Concerns raised over ‘phallic’ Antony Gormley sculpture on Imperial College London campus

Plans to install the sculpture ALERT by Sir Antony Gormley at Imperial College London have caused a row, with some students claiming the work is “phallic” and “exclusionary”. 

Antony Gormley ALERT

ALERT is a six-metre-high steel structure meant to resemble a squatting human figure. It is scheduled to stand in Imperial’s newly built Dangoor Plaza, as part of the university’s redevelopment of its South Kensington campus.

The sculpture is a gift to the college from the billionaire venture capitalist and alumnus Brahmal Vasudevan, though whether or not the installation plans will now go ahead is in question, after students moved to block it over concerns about the form of the figure.

Alex Auyang, chairman of the union for the university’s campus at Silwood Park in Berkshire, wrote: “Some may consider the male form of the phallic interpretation exclusionary, especially if it is meant to ‘[evoke our] community of scientific research’, which has issues with gender ratio and exclusion.”

Anthony Gormley

A motion objecting to the sculpture – released by the university but now seemingly removed – claims the work may “hurt the image and reputation of the college.”

It further reads that “the name ALERT could also be understood as referring to the statue’s phallus being erect.”

Despite the objection, the motion argues that there is “nothing inherently wrong with phallic imagery in art”. The issue, in their eyes, is the “phallic interpretation’s preoccupation with the penis could be considered inappropriate for a grand public display, especially given the statue’s size”.

Gormley is yet to comment on the push back. Initially, speaking about the sculpture, he said, “Through the conversion of anatomy into an architectural construction I want to reassess the relation between body and space. Balancing on the balls of the feet while squatting on its haunches and surveying the world around it, the attitude of this sculpture is alive, alert and awake.”

ALERT Gormley

The student who submitted the motion, a research postgraduate who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “Despite the support within the union, and that the paper has apparently been seen by senior college staff and Gormley’s team, I doubt that it will affect the installation of ALERT. I think that this is not the sort of thing that the college would pull out of or listen to students about.”


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