Anish Kapoor exhibition at the RA, a notable self indulgent pile of poo!

10 Jan
Went to the Royal Academy, after having read a few reviews and the Imagine programme on BBC1 (which incidentally was an all out hagiography with no backbone). So my expectations were not very high.
On arrival the herding of visitors in the courtyard did not look promising for the possibility of some space for contemplation in the exhibition spaces. On reaching the entrance I had to specifically ask to be allowed to see the show in its chronological flow and not start from the korteen steel piece in the central hall. I was told by one acquaintance I met at the show that the RA changed the flow of visitors due to the narrow walking space amongst the early works. This first room with the early (mainly) floor based pieces was very interesting and it reaffirmed just how alien his early pieces must have looked in the late 80s and early 90s. Those wonderful mountainous volumes coated in a fluffy layer of pure powdered pigment. They almost look as if the occupy the space between high-end baking and extra terrestrial sculpture.

The second room offered one of his really impressive wall moulded pieces in a rich, almost acidic canary yellow. It was fantastically suitable and at the same time fighting all the gilding and cornicing of the RA exhibition rooms. From there on though, the whole show deflated into a miserable pile of excrement. The third room was occupied by the dreaded cannon firing to the tiny watercolour gallery a shot of Vaseline impregnated pigment twice an hour. Seeing the gloopy paint piling on the floor of the Gallery did not make for good art. This was the start of art as a public spectacle of the lowest order. There were hordes of people wondering out loud when the next firing of red poop would be. It reminded me the sad crowds at Alton Tower waiting to get on to Nemesis. A pointless throng of people who are there to just satisfy their morbid fascination. I stayed for a few minutes and observed the people and it all had the feeling of a public execution during the 1400s. Everyone looking on waiting for the great event, the great ejaculation that stains the walls and part of the ceiling.

After the twenty or so minutes I spent observing the crowd I moved on the large exhibition room (is that the Weston Room?) It had the appearance of a hall of mirrors not dissimilar to what one can expect to find at Margate. The fact that all the pieces had been enlarged did not make them any better. And this room was doubly disappointing as Kapoor has made through his 30 year career so many successful mirrored and reflective pieces (particularly a couple of polished granite works from the late 90s). In this display most of the works were remakes of earlier pieces which smacked of his commercial interest in the retrospective. At his Hayward Gallery retrospective very few works were available for purchase and his mirrored pieces were arranged, wisely, in between major rooms, reflecting the visitors on their travels between two major installations. They were not the main thrust of the show. And their intellectual emptiness became evident by feeling a gigantic room of them at the RA. In this room the sight of people playing with their reflections in the pieces made me feel even more uneasy as he crossed the line once more into light entertainment. Losing the main purpose of fine art, to challenge the intellect and to awaken emotions.

The next room was the main attraction of the show, spanning the four galleries at the back of the RA. A use mass of red, Vaseline and wax encrusted mass of pigment moving through the elaborate granite doorways of the RA. In the process moulded into what looked like a mass-produced loaf of bread. To me the piece was another empty gesture by Kapoor, a lazy engagement with the architectural space. This works did not occupy the space it raped it in the most obvious way. Moving a pile of semi molten goo does not a good artwork make! I took my position in the middle room waiting for this morbid red loaf to go past. Watching how people tried to smell and touch it. And the poor assistant trying to ask them to stay behind the moderate barriers. For me the only interesting part of the piece was how it coated the door ways in its passing with this red viscous poo. In a way the sensation amplified by the prominent bins in the corner of all the rooms full of used paper towels that people used to clean their hands after they had –naughtily- touched his train of poo.

The grandiose scale of both the korteen steel piece in the central hall and the cement piles next doors where indicative of his art losing its way. What happened to his, previously, sensual surfaces that occupied the floors so graciously? All I could see around me where monolithic, unsympathetic, non human scaled ego statements. I longed for his subtle ways with colour that characterises much of his work. To me this show signified a terrible decline since his two commissions at Baltic and Tate Modern. His work ballooned in scale but he lost grasp of what made his work distinctive and vital.

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