September 22, 2009 / 1:48 PM / 10 years ago

Cannon fire, slow train star in major Kapoor show

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A flying pellet of red wax shot from a cannon in one room and a giant, train-sized lump of the same material moving glacially across another — welcome to the world of Anish Kapoor. London’s Royal Academy is staging a retrospective of the Indian-born artist, although at a press preview on Tuesday he rejected the description and pointed out that several of the works in the exhibition were new or recent.

British artist Anish Kapoor poses for a photograph with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, September 22, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“I wanted a show while I was alive and kicking,” he said in a recent interview about the show, a rare honor at an institution that usually recognizes artists when they are dead.

“I want to get it out of the way now.”

The largest work is “Svayambh,” a 40-tonne block of red wax which runs along rails the length of one side of the Academy’s main exhibition space.

It neatly fits through arches dividing five rooms, blocking the visitor’s view as it passes, and looks as much like a large loaf of bread as a train.

The wax takes 90 minutes to move from one end of the space to the other, and it does so in complete silence. Random lumps of wax lie on the floor and mark the white walls of the Royal Academy, the third venue where the work has been installed.

In contrast, “Shooting into the Corner” is an ever-changing work where nine-kg pellets of wax are fired from a cannon every few minutes through an archway and on to the wall of a second room, where the material gradually builds up.

The walls and floor are spattered as if by blood in one of Kapoor’s more political pieces that examines weaponry and death as well as danger and surprise.


Kapoor, 55, was born in Mumbai, studied art in London and won the Turner prize in 1991, yet he is seen as a global, rather than British artist.

Along with a handful of big names like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Lucian Freud, he is a darling of the contemporary art market, and his alabaster sculpture fetched 1.95 million pounds at Sotheby’s London in July last year.

The Royal Academy exhibition, which runs from September 26-December 11, features a room dedicated to Kapoor’s brightly colored pigment sculptures and another to highly polished steel shapes that reflect and distort the visitor’s image.

“Yellow” is a bright-colored, smooth-sided hole receding into a false wall, reminiscent of the sun, while “When I Am Pregnant” consists of a white wall out of which protrudes a woman’s child-bearing “belly.”

“Hive” is a vast, curved, brown steel form made especially for the show and which just squeezes into the Wohl Central Hall.

Next door is another new work of piles of cement on pallets reminiscent of worm casts found on a beach, and a contrast to the shiny surfaces of the 15-meter tower of steel spheres called “Tall Tree and the Eye” on display in the Academy’s courtyard.

Slideshow (14 Images)

Reviews of the show have been largely positive, with the Telegraph’s Richard Dorment describing it as an “awe-inspiring riot of the senses” in his five-out-of-five star review.

Rachel Campbell-Johnston of the Times gave the exhibition four stars, but concluded:

“Kapoor translates our most complicated philosophies into a gallery-goer’s version of cinematic special effects ... We are watching optical performances. It is pleasurable and popular and sometimes sensational: but then so is a day at the fairground.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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