INDIAN CONTEMPORARY ART SCULPTURE
Anish Kapoor’s sculpture fills London’s Royal Academy
British Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s mid-career retrospective at the Royal Academy in London, England, has just wrapped up. Two years in the making, the exhibition ran from 26 September to 11 December 2009.
It must have been at least a little daunting for the artist; he is the first living British sculptor to have a solo show occupying the entire Royal Academy gallery. Critics had lots to say. Most were positively awe-inspired. It seems that reviewers found the show at once weird, entertaining and thought-provoking.
“Kapoor’s work has always been on the edge of entertainment, even as it’s tempted to high and grand pretension,” writes Tom Lubbock for The Independent.
Among the exhibits, that filled five major galleries in the Royal Academy, there were more than a few that critics believed stood out.
Tall Tree and the Eye stood in the courtyard of the Academy. Made of 76 highly polished, 15 metre high steel spheres which reflected their surroundings, it was a newly commissioned sculpture. The Economist said, “this fine work of art, or giant-sized perceptual toy, lights up, and lightens up, its venerable surroundings.”
Shooting Into the Corner consisted of a cannon fired at 20 minute intervals, shooting red wax balls into an opposite gallery space at 30 mph.
“A crowd-pleaser and teaser, Shooting Into the Corner will be held as affectionately in popular cultural memory,” summarises Jackie Wullschlager of the Financial Times.
Unfortunately, “as this artist’s work gets bigger and more grandiose, it also gets emptier and more sterile,” she continues.
Laura Cumming, writing for Guardian.co.uk, notes, “It’s a painting in progress – and not just Pollock, but Manet’s The Execution of Emperor Maximilian. It’s a sculpture – Richard Serra’s molten lead wall spatters from the Sixties. It’s a performance and a period piece, too, invoking the history of art.”
The Economist had a high opinion of the installation entitled Snail: “Snail, another exhibit, has a fat, coiling fibreglass body which opens out into a lusciously vermilion mouth. It is terrific.”
Svayambahm was a huge truck-sized block of soft red wax trundling through all five galleries on train-style tracks, leaving a snail-like trail of red on the floor, walls and ceiling.
Adrian Searle, writing for Guardian.co.uk, says of Svayambahm, “the daftness of some of Kapoor’s art is a good counterbalance to the more ponderous pretensions the artist has always been prey to. In fact, it is the wrestling between these two tendencies that produces [this], his strongest work.”
Both Shooting Into the Corner and Svayambahm were considerably less appealing to The Economist than other exhibits: “A cannon blasts gobs of lurid red wax-plus-Vaseline; a wagon-sized contraption made up of similar stuff deposits bits of itself on floors and doors as it slowly trundles through four rooms. Both these works seem unfortunate departures from Kapoor’s admired elegance and refinement.”
Brian Sewell, in a review for The London Evening Standard, mentions that both these works have been exhibited elsewhere in Europe. Perhaps the only original piece in the exhibition was Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked. Unfortunately, this piece vividly reminded Sewell “of the floor of the public lavatory in Baskale, the highest town in eastern Turkey, after months of extreme water shortage.”
The Economist wrapped up it’s opinion of all the exhibits in this comment: “Are they, in the event, relevant to their setting? Not often. But some, such as the fine mirror sculptures, are certainly enhanced by it: seeing the gallery’s gilding and skylight reflected upside-down in these pieces adds to their enjoyment. Others are splendidly positioned…”
Not everyone had something good to say. Sewell, in his review for The London Evening Standard, described the exhibition as a “damp squib” and is of the opinion that “its two most sensational kinetic exhibits [Shooting Into the Corner and Svayambahm] are given to failing their essential functions.”
Richard Dorment, in his review for The Telegraph, says of the exhibition overall: “No other contemporary British artist has Kapoor’s range of imagination and no one else routinely works on this scale. Over the years, he’s become more of a public than a private artist – or at least one whose most effective works are intended not for private contemplation, but to inspire awe in large numbers of people.”
Dorment views Kapoor’s work as something closer to performance art than sculpture.
The exhibition was reported to be a combination of historical artistic reference and self-referential humour, part homage to 1960s artists like Richard Serra and part active, living sculpture. The artist has proven his ability to highlight both primitive and modernistic elements in his work and provoke these responses in the viewer.
“What I admire about him most…is the unwavering depth of the experiences he conjures up,” said Waldemar Januszczak, of the Times Online.
It seems Anish Kapoor has again demonstrated his exceptional ability to work with traditional materials yet blend these with aspects of performance art. He works on such a large scale at every opportunity and has a huge range of imagination. This exhibition managed to absorb the viewer, highlighting what separates Kapoor from his contemporaries.
Lucie Charkin, writing for FAD, had this to say: “On reflection, no pun intended, whilst some moments in the show seem a little too contrived it could be argued that in his clever use and misuse of the RA’s galleries Kapoor has allowed himself to edge a little closer towards his personal goal of inventing ‘a new space’ with his art.”
Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent for The London Evening Standard, reported “talks are in progress with major museums and galleries about buying some of the exhibition’s biggest pieces, including the tower of steel balls from the courtyard.”
The exhibition will move to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in March 2010.
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- Newslink round up Art Basel 2009 – Indian, Japanese artists dominate coverage of Asians – June 2009
- Indian born sculptor Anish Kapoor in top 10 at Sothebys London Contemporary Day Sale – July 2008