Did Antony Gormley Deliberately Appropriate This William Cobbing Clay Performance Piece?

Left Antony Gormley Right William Cobbing

Open Letter via Artlyst

Dear Antony Gormley and Sadler’s Wells,

I was installing my exhibition at Museum Jorn, Denmark, a week or so ago when I started getting a steady stream of emails and Twitter posts to my account (William Cobbing) from artists, curators and writers about a photo in the Evening Standard, Artlyst and the Guardian previewing Antony Gormley’s clay performance collaboration at Sadler’s Wells. Echoing the sentiment of these messages I was shocked to see such a close resemblance to my performance and video work ‘The Kiss’ (2004), and ‘The Kiss 2’ (2017).

‘The Kiss’ is by far my best-known artwork, and has been exhibited extensively as a live performance and video at galleries, museums, theatres since 2004, including at Camden Arts Centre, Matt’s Gallery, The Freud Museum, The Hayward Gallery Project Space, Herzliya Museum of Art (Israel), Museum Jorn (Denmark). An earlier version of the clay performance was exhibited at ‘A Secret History of Clay: From Gauguin to Gormley’ in 2004 at TATE Liverpool.

It has also received extensive media coverage since 2004, including over 4 million views on Facebook, and almost 40,000 views on my Vimeo site. It has been included in the major Phaidon survey publication ‘Vitamin C’. There are a huge number of stills of this performance work online, resulting in it being a popular image that a great number of people in the arts have seen at some point.

Of course, all artists are influenced by other artists to some degree or other, and I have openly acknowledged that Brâncuși’s ‘The Kiss’ and Jan Švankmajer’s claymations have influenced this work. However, as many others have noticed, Gormley’s image is an almost identical replica of mine. Both figures in profile are facing each other with misshapen lumps of clay covering and enlarging their heads, with the clay fused in the middle, caught in an embrace in which hands are placed on each other’s heads. Even the clothing and cropped framing of the image is almost identical.

This Sadler’s Wells photo is especially badly timed as ‘The Kiss 2’ is the lead publicity image for the LER! (CLAY!) Exhibition at Museum Jorn in Denmark, running from 10 Feb to 10 June 2018 http://www.museumjorn.dk/da/kommende_udstillinger/ler/ . I wish to disseminate the publicity for this exhibition in the UK without the confusion of the Sadler’s Wells image, and so would like to ask that this is replaced by another still from Gormley’s performance. From what I have read there are many other scenarios between performer and clay in the collaboration with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, so I would hope that another one could be chosen to avoid this duplication and any further confusion about the closeness of the works.

Thanks for your consideration of this request.

Best regards,

William Cobbing


Good news! emailed Gormley and Sadlers Wells this morn, armed with the Artlyst open letter, asking them to stop using the image for future publicity of the performance, and got a call last night from chief press officer at SW saying she spoke to Gormley, and he agreed the image looked very similar so they are going to pull the image for future press.

This is what i wanted – it’s the image of the performance rather than the performance (which I assume will still rip me off, unless Gormley changes it based on this negative publicity) but that’s harder to stop, and prove, as my video relied on the still image rather than the live event (a semiotic issue, I need Berger to help out there!) A shame Gormley didn’t engage with me directly, but I’m not sure he’d admit copying me, so it’s left as a vague coincidence, I guess.

So thanks so much, so great of you to help me out like this by publishing the letter

What Social Media Is Saying:

OMG Have you seen this?? Looks like a rip-off to me!

I guess you have seen last night’s Evening Standard!

Funny, this looks *very*much like a @WilliamCobbing photo that significantly pre-dates this Gormley work (Twitter)

Who would win in a fight, Antony Gormley or William Cobbing? (Twitter)

William Cobbing

William Cobbing’s artworks encompass a diverse range of media, including video, installation and performance. Cobbing’s works allude to the idea of entropy, blurring of the boundaries between the body and the landscape. Cobbing studied sculpture at Central St Martins, de ateliers artists’ institute in Amsterdam, and a PhD at Middlesex University in 2010. In 2010 Cobbing had a residency at Turquoise Mountain in Kabul, Afganistan leading to the solo exhibition Man in the Planet at Viafarini Documentation Center for Visual Arts, Milan, Italy. He was awarded the Helen Chadwick Fellowship at Ruskin School and British School at Rome, resulting in the Gradiva Project at Freud Museum and Camden Arts Centre during 2007 – 8. Cobbing co-curated (with Rosie Cooper) the Bob Jubilé events, publications and exhibitions on his grandfather, the sound poet Bob Cobbing. Exhibitions include What’s Love Got to Do with It at Hayward Gallery Project Space, Revolver at Matt’s Gallery, Drawing Biennial at the Drawing Room (all London) and Transactions of the Duddo Field Club at Hatton Gallery (Newcastle, United Kingdom).

Antony Gormley

Sir Antony Mark David Gormley, (born 30 August 1950) is a British sculptor. His best known works include the Angel of the North, a public sculpture in Gateshead in the North of England, commissioned in 1994 and erected in February 1998, Another Place on Crosby Beach near Liverpool, and Event Horizon, a multi-part site installation which premiered in London in 2007, around Madison Square in New York City, in 2010, in São Paulo, Brazil, in 2012, and in Hong Kong in 2015–16. In 2008 The Daily Telegraph ranked Gormley number 4 in their list of the “100 most powerful people in British culture”. Gormley won the Turner Prize in 1994 with Field for the British Isles. He was quoted as saying that he was “embarrassed and guilty to have won…In the moment of winning there is a sense the others have been diminished. I know artists who’ve been seriously knocked off their perches through disappointment. Gormley has been a Royal Academician since 2003, and was a Trustee of the British Museum from 2007 to 2015. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Institute of British Architects, honorary doctor of the universities of Teesside, Liverpool, University College London, and Cambridge, and a fellow of Trinity and Jesus Colleges, Cambridge. In October 2010. On 13 March 2011, Gormley was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for the set design for Babel (Words) at Sadler’s Wells in collaboration with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet.


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