Svayambh – red wax monster shaped by the building
Royal Academy of Arts: Anish Kapoor (Exhibition 26 September – 11 December, 10am-6pm, Fridays 9.30pm)
Wandering around the press preview of this major solo exhibition by 1991 Turner Prize winner Anish Kapoor, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer sense of fun this influential sculptor encapsulates in his work.
Rather than try to tease out ‘meaning’ from each piece – a mix of new work and previously unseen items – I just found myself delighting in the physical appeal of each one, and the way they made me think about them.
First up is the monumental Hive (2009), built in a shipyard in Holland using Corten steel. It impacts you immediately as you stare into its hidden depths, and then walk round what for all the world seems like an alien submarine, left to rust on a distant, abandoned planet.
Greyman Cries etc - serious playdo, this
Gallery two yields the enigmatically titled Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked (2008-9), consisting of dozens of pallets piled high with cement sculptures generated via a computer-controlled three-dimensional printer. The result is a mix of almost fossilised geological strata plus dinosaur poo put through a mincer. You want to grab a handful of it – it looks fantastic fun created by grown-ups let loose with a vat of modelling clay.
The writhing marble monster Slug (2009) seems almost alive, contrasting a sinewy intestinal feel with a towering female organ in an unlikely metallic red.
Non-object (wall) - concave reflections
There’s a fascinating gallery of ‘non-objects‘ full of concave mirrors throwing back distorted and often upside down reflections. Shiny chrome always brings out the magpie in all of us, and Kapoor maybe asks us how we appear to others compared to how we see ourselves with this cavalcade of end of the pier distortions.
A gallery of Pigment works flings deeply coloured geometric shapes at us, tempered with a powder sprayed almost soft texture, and including the wonderful When I am Pregnant (1992), a swelling bump that pops out seamlessly from the white walls, playing tricks with the light.
Yellow - you might just dive in and disappear
Piece de resistance when it comes to impact for me was the awesome Yellow (1999) – a cavernous splash of yellow that dives deep into a wall and leaves us grasping for a means to take it in. The curve of its shape makes it impossible to tell how deep it goes, and the result is something you just have to stare at and enjoy.
Heart of the exhibition is the powerful Svayambh (2007), taking up five galleries at the RA. A massive block of red wax chugs slowly along tracks, oozing through the Academy’s white and gilt doorways, leaving a sticky residue behind. The title comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘self-generated’. It is bizarre, fascinating and mystifying all at the same time.
And the same red wax becomes a weapon in Shooting into the Corner (2008-9), as cannon fires 20lb plugs of the material at 50mph through another doorway and against a wall. Some 30 tons will be fired through the exhibition. Described by RA chiefs as a “psycho drama”, there is a real tension as we wait for the plug to be fired, supervised by a black boiler-suited assistant. There is something visceral and disturbing that we share in here, and the experience is strangely engrossing.
For those who don’t ‘get’ modern art and sculpture, Kapoor’s work may not make much sense. But maybe that’s because it shouldn’t be approached as a puzzle which needs to be solved, rather than created works that evoke a response or cause us to think.
You may respond or think differently to me. But you should go – it’s exciting stuff.
Tickets are £12, bookable at www.royalacademy.org.uk or on 0844 209 1919