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Anish Kapoor at the RA

Anish Kapoor held a significant show at the Royal Academy of Art in London during September through to December 2009. It was the first show by a living artist to take over the whole of the RA -- and this show did not, in my opinion, disappoint. To be perfectly honest I find a lot of what you would call "contemporary art" a tad irrelevant and inconsequential, and perhaps some of it seems to be "art for art's sake", but this guy really goes back to basics; his work has material presence, it has real substance (literally), it is moving, and it can be fun -- you have to take notice of this artist. I just found the show very thought-provoking and moving in an elemental way.

As for individual pieces, the silver balls ('Tall tree and the Eye') in the courtyard were amazing (see the photos). This is a massive piece of sculpture by any standards and almost defies description, and you have to marvel at the quality of production (how did they produce these balls and keep them together?) The balls reflect the RA courtyard buildings, multiplying them thousands of times, the balls themselves reflect each other making a fractal type image on each surface, the balls reflect the visitors in the courtyard, and ones own image is reflected a thousand times more. Some of the other mirror pieces in the main show are a bit like the old 'Hall of mirrors' fairground show, in the way they distort and obviously amuse, but they do involve the observer in a very real and physical way. The large double-sided concave/convex mirror piece is stunning and creates many amazing illusions: you change size and shape as you approach it, you flip upside-down, it's very disorientating.

The pigment pieces are really delicate and are just nice to look at -- the intensity of the pigment colour really makes them sing; they are almost audible in this sense. The huge steel piece ('Hive') presents an internal space, a kind of inside-out object which almost defies observation. The 'Shooting into the corner' piece (which was featured on the BBC evening news even) seemed a bit silly -- not sure what he was getting at although of course as the gun fired the wax the gallery was packed out to see the spectacle -- it almost seemed like Kapoor playing a joke on the art world, but enjoying the process none-the-less.

The huge lump of wax (called 'Svayambh' meaning self-made) was a little puzzling or incomprehensible, but the sheer size of the wax piece (over 30 tons) moving very slowly along its track was quite awesome. It had the same effect on me as seeing a massive steam train close up, a hulking mass in slow motion, or perhaps how a glacier or tectonic plate may appear to move imperceptibly.

My favourite piece was a collection of clay or concrete pieces crammed into one room (it is called 'Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked' which is a bit grand for such an elemental piece). The visitor was allowed to walk through and around the pieces, each one a pile of varying sized coils of slip or clay-like substance, but reading the notes it turns out to be concrete. Each pile in a different configuration, and a different state of dis-orderedness - some incomplete, some falling down. As I said this had such an elemental quality -- were these things natural, man-made, animal, plant-like -- some looked like guts or faeces, they had a real physical bodily presence.

If you missed the show, there is a great record of it on the RA website, with some very nice pics: www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/anish-kapoor

--Review by Andrew Smith, October 2009.

'Tall tree and the Eye' by Anish Kapoor
© Jasmine Smith - Original photos taken of 'Tall tree and the Eye' by Anish Kapoor in the Royal Academy courtyard, Oct 2009.

Detail 'Tall tree and the Eye' by Anish Kapoor

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