Flashback is a series of touring exhibitions put on by the Arts Council Collection, South Bank Centre. The Collection’s initial aim was to support emerging artists through the purchasing of their work. Therefore, Flashback is just that, as these exhibitions give the public a unique opportunity to look back at the evolution of key figures in British art, like that of Anish Kapoor.
There are two Anish Kapoors in my life. One is my local GP and the other one is an internationally renowned, Turner-Prize-winning British sculptor with a CBE. Fortunately for us, it is the latter whose work has recently come to the concrete shores of Nottingham. Kapoor has been making waves since his arrival in London in the 1980s, with bold sculptures and more recently architectural pieces designed for large public spaces (‘Leviathan’, 2011) and smaller, more modest venues.
Kapoor’s works are displayed in The Long Gallery of Nottingham Castle, essentially an empty, white-walled corridor. This setting, with the contrast of red wax and traditional stylised vaulted ceilings, is reminiscent of one of his most memorable exhibitions, held at the Royal Academy in 2009. From eye level, his sculptures are framed by the expanse of the white walls and contrasted against the regal, corniced ceiling of the Castle.
As well as the usual gallery appetisers of books, photographs and a beautiful film exploring the works of Kapoor, this exhibition displays a main course of 10 of Kapoor’s sculptures, which will leave you completely satisfied.
Kapoor designs and builds his work with purpose and clear themes. The exhibition has been curated with this in mind and has focused on three common themes in Kapoor’s work: Colour, Reflection and Humanity.
One sculpture in the exhibition instantly summarises Kapoor’s bold use of colour: ‘White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers’ (1982). The first time I saw this masterpiece was in London’s South Bank Centre and I was completely dismissive of what looked like four coloured sandcastles. How wrong I was; these small sculptures were inspired by a trip Kapoor made to India, where he became obsessed with the piles of dyes and pigments on sale in the markets. The sculpture he produced is almost spiritual, with mini-mountains doused in colour and placed carefully onto the gallery floor.
15 years of Psychoanalysis is enough to make anyone obsessed with inner reflection. Kapoor (for once) doesn’t differ from the masses and many of his concave sculptures explore this theme. In this exhibition, mounted on the wall is a giant, blue bowl. ‘Void’ (1994) is one of Kapoor’s best set of reflective works. It’s a deep, royal shade of blue through which Kapoor draws you into a space that you know is finite, but seems to extend beyond its fibreglass structure.
The last sculpture in the exhibition is ‘When I am Pregnant’ (1992). Seamlessly emerging from the back wall is a white bulge: Kapoor’s representation of a pregnant woman. Whilst this is an obvious example of Kapoor’s fascination with the softness and weakness of human flesh (in contrast to the harsh materials we have created with our intellect), he is usually subtler. For example, ‘Negative Box Shadow’ (2005), on display in the Castle, is a man-sized cuboid of a waxy, fleshy, red material with a brutal metal disc slicing into it. Kapoor’s attention to detail in his sculpture is absurd, red wax rippling out from beneath the disc like grazed, cut skin. ‘Red in the Centre’ (1982) also on display in the castle, could be taken as simple vapid sexual objects as well as delicate, organic figures carved out of inorganic, cold materials.
In 2008, Boris Johnson commissioned Kapoor to build ‘something extra’ for the Olympic Site. The result of this commission is the Arcelor Mittal Orbit, an observation tower (or rather nicknamed by the press ‘the melted red Eiffel tower/rollercoaster’). This structure has brought Kapoor a lot of criticism from the mainstream press, but if this exhibition proves anything it is how much Kapoor has enriched British art and impressed upon the rest of the world. Criticism from the press barely taints his gleaming halo, as you will see for yourself at the castle; Kapoor still represents what is hot with British sculpture.
Image: ‘Anish Kapoor: Flashback’, installation view, 2011-12, Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery. Photo by Jon Hartley.