Anish Kapoor at The Royal Academy of Arts
London W1J 0BD
26th of September through 11th of December
Anish Kapoor at Royal Academy functions as the consecration of an artist whose work has been amongst the most influential and pioneering of his generation. In the UK, many will remember his gigantic Marsyas from 2002, which dramatically as well as literally filled Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with multiple red trumpet-like structures. On the other side of the Atlantic, he is better known for Cloud Gate, a public sculpture located in Chicago’s Millenium Park that, made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together in the shape of a legume-like polished object, reflects and distorts the towering skyscrapers of the city. Here, people gather to admire the seamless surface as the distorting reflection confuses their bodies with the surrounding architecture.
Whether indoors or outdoors, Anish Kapoor’s sculptures present viewers with forms that permeate physical and psychological space, through the use of abstract bodies charged with a somewhat spiritual quality. His works resonate with a majestic and elegant simplicity, suspended between the sculptoreal and the architectural; the natural and the supernatural.
However, here Anish Kapoor has found fertile ground in the neoclassical architectural solemnity of the Royal Academy building and has largely focussed on effectively incorporating this in his work. For instance, one of the highlights of the exhibition is the monumental Svayambh, (a Sanskrit word which roughly translates as "auto-generated"). The work has the appearance of a vast cubic mass of red-wax that moves almost imperceptibly on sunken rails leaving a residue in its wake as it traverses the breadth of Burlington House. As the 40-ton block travels from room to room, the marble doorframes, leaving piles of excess at each sides of the work, shave its profile. This emblematic project reflects Kapoor's exploration of sculptural works that actively participate in their own formation, as well as drawing references to the great juggernaut that is dragged by devotees of the Hindu god Jagannatha at the festival of Rathayatra and which is said to crush everything in its path. After all, in his recent repertoire, red wax is evocative of flesh, blood and transfiguration.
The material is also at the core of the most popular work presented in the show, Shooting into the Corner, where a cannon shoots projectiles of red wax into a corner at regular intervals. Relentlessly repeating this action, the work evolves over the duration of the exhibition as the build up of over 20 tonnes of wax takes on its own form against the once pristine walls and polished floor of the galleries. The spectacle surrounding the firing of the cannon and the accumulation of the wax produces a work of extraordinary complexity and drama, as the loud noise from the cannon fills the exhibiting space with a note hugely contrasting with the silent presence of the other works. However theatrical the piece is, the real treat here is to see the pristine white walls and classical polished marble door-frames being mercilessly splattered with a blood-like material. The starting reference may be “the physicality of making art” as explored in Richard Serra’s classic Splashing, a 1968 performance piece in which he threw molten lead into a wall to make a cast sculpture; but the work contains many more layers of sophistication. This in a nutshell embodies the struggle of late ‘800 that saw the Impressionists refusing the classical canon as well as embodying the wider discourse on beauty and perfection, rationality and emotion, truth and construction that is at the very core of modern and contemporary art.
In between Svayambh and Shooting into the Corner, the exhibition presents a range of surprising installations of free-standing stainless-steel sculptures and hanging discs which reflect and distort the surroundings in rather unpredictable and surprising ways. Honeycomb, a massive metal object tainted in a honey like dust, possesses a strangely organic and sexual quality that reminds of Georgia O’Keeffee’s flower paintings.
The new body of work, which comprises of conglomerates of elongated abstract shapes evoking snake-like-beings capitalise on a previously unseen black and white muteness, and contrasts with the radiant brilliance of Yellow a complex play of concave surfaces and carefully applied layers of paint, which strangely evokes the unforgettable Olafur Eliasson 's mirrored sun in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall for his 2003 The Weather Project.
In his work Kapoor proposes ‘a doubting of ones perceptual certainty’ in the knowledge that such exercise may lead onto a different and more aware understanding of our existence on this planet. Everything about Kapoor’s work is deceptive, colours, shapes, movements, sounds, and materials. Everything here is asking us to look twice and not to jump at quick conclusions about the work. A lesson about life, not just about art.
The exhibition shows Kapoor at its best, not only displaying some of its finest works, but also demonstrating a complex and painful awareness of the space surrounding the art objects. Here, nothing seems out of place. There is a strong sense of effortless balance as neoclassical architecture encounters and perfectly blends in with the lines of the most sharp, harsh, sleek but heavy contemporary art.
Giovanni Aloi is an art historian in modern and contemporary art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sotheby’s Institute of Art New York and London, and Tate Galleries. He has curated art projects involving photography and the moving image is a BBC radio contributor, and his work has been translated into many languages. Aloi is Editor in Chief of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture www.antennae.org.uk.view all articles from this author