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Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has said that the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a spiraling goliath of red tangled steel that stands 35 stories above the city’s Olympic Park, would have “dwarfed” the aspirations of Gustave Eiffel and “boggled the minds” of the ancient Romans.
Many Londoners don’t see it quite that way.
They’ve called the Orbit, designed by the Indian-born sculptor Anish Kapoor and the Sri Lankan architect Cecil Balmond, the “Eye-full Tower” and “Helter-Skelter,” and have compared it to a “contorted mass of entrails.” Envisioned as a symbol of London looming over the site of this summer’s Olympic Games, the Orbit, which visitors will enter, ascend and explore, is designed as an attraction to rival the London Eye and Big Ben for decades to come. And, at least for now, the sculpture is also serving as a prime target for British Olympic crankiness.
New York Times
Some of the greatest art in the world is public art, including Michelangelo’s David, the fountains of Bernini and Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. Those are lofty masterpieces. A few notches down in sublimity but beloved of locals and tourists alike are such icons as Eros at Piccadilly Circus, or the mermaid in Copenhagen harbour, or the Statue of Liberty.
It is important to remember such triumphs as the debate over public art in Britain deepens. A few years ago, expensive public commissions seemed almost beyond criticism. Today they seem a sitting target for denunciation. It surely reflects a depressed economy: a depressed nation? Yet with the typical messy and inaccurate nature of artistic debate in Britain, where people sometimes seem to look with their mouths rather than their eyes, the sculpture that is taking the flak for years of excess in British public art is actually a fine example of the genre. Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s Orbit is a daring, imaginative and exhilarating work of art. It does not deserve to be pilloried – on the contrary, if all British public art were like this, it would be an age of glory.
The Turner prize-winning sculptor Anish Kapoor is uncharacteristically nervous about his next project: his first ever exhibition in his native India.
“A return is always going to be difficult – quite frightening, actually,” said the man whose exhibition last year at the Royal Academy in London was the most successful ever for a living artist, attracting more than 260,000 visitors.
One of the most spectacular pieces from that show, a cannon that fires large blocks of wax into a corner of the gallery, gradually producing a slaughterhouse scene of blood red splodges, is among those being installed in Delhi where the exhibition will open at the end of the month. It then opens in Mumbai, where Kapoor was born in 1954.
“I still have many relatives there – I hope they will approve,” he said.
While in Mumbai the exhibition will take over an entire Bollywood film studio, in Delhi they have merely had to expand an entrance to the new wing of the National Gallery of Modern Art to get the pieces in. All were designed and partly constructed at his studios in London.
Anish Kapoor in front of Sky Mirror, Red, in Kensington Gardens. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters
As a blood red sun appeared to rise over the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, while a huge silver moon set over the Long Water lake, it was clear the challenge for the round-the-clock security guards will be to keep swans, dogs and children off the art, not any vandals or robbers who might be interested to learn that several million pounds worth of contemporary art has landed in the heart of London.
Anish Kapoor was almost as bewitched as the swans, even under the most Monday morningish of grey skies.
“The best site in London for a piece of art,” he said, looking across the water at the great grey stainless steel disc of his Sky Mirror, “probably in the world.”
While Kapoor’s giant pieces have been exhibited in the open air across the world and in many places in Britain, the last London saw of the Turner prize-winning sculptor was when he caused grievous bodily harm in the name of art to the Royal Academy, installing an engine forcing a giant block of crimson wax through narrow doorways, and a cannon which fired more blocks through another door until the room beyond looked like a particularly messy abattoir.
If you had asked me 30 years ago what sort of career Anish Kapoor was going to have, I would have replied: a short one. Not because I am a bad caller of these things, and a lousy art critic, but because Kapoor’s early sculptures felt rather derivative. Providing you had been to India, that is.
Kapoor and I are more or less the same age. I remember his debut vividly. The first works of his to have an impact were bright heaps of unmixed pigment — red, yellow, blue — deposited on the gallery floor in Jungian clusters and looking as if they had been tipped out of giant cake moulds. The intensity of those unmixed colours gave away their Indian origins. Anyone who has ever approached a Hindu temple will recognise these startling hues from the stalls of the pigment pedlars lining the final mile. In India, temple stall after temple stall offers a Kapoor experience in miniature.
My mistake, and of course it was a huge one, was to imagine that quoting from his origins was all Kapoor would ever seek to do. It’s not that I did not respond to his unmixed pigments; the sight of them was electrifying, then and now. But, like one of those Booker Prize winners who writes a fine novel about their childhood in Calcutta, and that’s it, I thought he might not have a volume two in him, that his subtext would become his text. How wrong was I?
A selection of Kapoor’s colour shockers pops up in the first room of the Royal Academy’s impressive half-retrospective of his career so far. It’s half a retrospective because the RA is too small to accommodate the full beast, and because Kapoor is too alert and ambitious a sculptor to settle for nostalgia. When the RA invited him into its galleries, it invited him into a new range of sculptural possibilities, which he explores here with characteristic fierceness. This is a battle as much as it is a retrospective: Kapoor v the Royal Academy’s spaces. Why, there’s even a cannon in the show, firing splats of gooey Napoleonic wax at the gallery walls. Extraordinary.
At a time when cultural organizations struggle to hold onto their audiences, the ICA is Boston’s greatest success story. Since opening in December 2006, attendance has boomed, making it the second most visited museum in the region. And a string of recent high-profile shows has done more than create foot traffic. The shows have changed the way Bostonians, traditionally more attuned to Sargent and Monet, look at contemporary art.
“Maybe it just took that landmark building to make people wake up,’’ said Susan Stoops, curator of contemporary art at Worcester Art Museum.
No show has had more impact than the current 250-plus-piece exhibition of work by the controversial street artist Fairey. Just last month, attendance passed 105,000, making it the most popular show in the ICA’s 73-year history. That came on the heels of well-received exhibitions featuring Bombay-born sculptor Anish Kapoor and Tara Donovan, who crafts objects out of Scotch tape, plastic buttons, and pins.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the Museum of Fine Arts, but if you go there, you won’t see any graffiti,’’ Sudbury’s Evan Berkowitz, 13, said after walking through the Fairey exhibition. “I like the ICA. It’s a nice break.’’
How has the ICA done it? By reaching out to the mainstream without alienating art world insiders. Chief Curator Nicholas Baume said the museum remains committed to giving attention to deserving artists who make important works. But he says he is also conscious of the need to build a new audience.
“Kapoor, Donovan, and Fairey are artists you don’t need to have a lot of experience going to museums and have an art history degree to really engage with and respond to,’’ he said.
Even some local gallery owners, critics, and curators who criticized the shows held just after the building’s opening in December 2006 have come around. They appreciated the work of Kapoor, known for his mirrored, bean-shaped installation, “Cloud Gate,’’ in Chicago’s Millennium Park. They also praised the solo exhibition featuring Donovan. In a fortuitous twist, two weeks before the show opened, Donovan was awarded a MacArthur genius grant.
“They’ve really hit their stride,’’ said Nick Capasso, senior curator at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.
The Boston Globe
From a review of Anish Kapoor’s new show at Boston’s ICA:
Mr. Kapoor shouldn’t be considered merely derivative. He combines too many disparate strands of art, thought and culture, and he does it seamlessly. He is a brilliant and unpredictable if sometimes ingratiating synthesizer who has simultaneously refined, repurposed and betrayed some of the dearest beliefs and most despised bêtes noires of late-20th-century sculpture.
It has probably aided this project that Mr. Kapoor, who is 54, did not begin life in a Western culture. He was born and grew up in Mumbai when it was still called Bombay, and in 1973 moved to London, where he studied art and then took up residence. He is a decade or so older than most of the Young British Artists, who took the art world by storm in the early 1990s, and his sensibility is markedly different: he greatly prefers gentle seduction to shock tactics.
His sculpture is in many ways one long ode to the modernist monochrome and its emphasis on purity and perception, enacted in three-dimensional space. It carves, colors and complicates space in different ways, adding interactive aspects and pushing that purity back and forth between votive and technological, East and West.
Mr. Kapoor has paid homage to Minimalism’s faith in weightless volumes, abstraction, specific materials, saturated color and simplicity of form. But he has also explored different materials’ capacities for visual illusion, the biggest of Minimalism’s no-nos and a tendency that encroaches on territory pioneered by installation artists like James Turrell. Mr. Kapoor’s use of dry pigments echoes Process artists like Alan Saret and Wolfgang Laib, although it has a long history in Hindu rituals.
And despite the high degree of abstraction in his art, living form, if only the viewer’s body, is always implied. Perhaps this is why Mr. Kapoor largely bypassed the immense installations and environments favored by so many sculptors of the last 30 years. Instead he has displayed a knack for compressing his various effects into reasonably portable if not exactly domestic-scale objects, even if they are temporarily set into walls or floors. Their scale can make them seem all the more magical, focused and intimate.
New York Times