Anish Kapoor at Nottingham Castle


All rights reserved by Arts Council Collection

Anish Kapoor: Flashback was a travelling exhibition. I visited it at Nottingham Castle Gallery in February. I’d heard fantastic things about his Royal Academy show which I missed sadly – and now I understand what all the hype’s about. He’s worth that hype.


All rights reserved by Arts Council Collection

The thing that sets Anish Kapoor apart from other contemporary artists is his universal appeal. He is interested in the sensations evoked when we see sculpture, that don’t require any previous knowledge – no references to Christ required – just our innate human curiosity. He plays with illusion and light. His forms are drawn from nature.

This one above is called When I Am Pregnant. It’s a pregnant wall. They had to build the whole wall for this bump. It’s perfectly smooth and we’re instinctively drawn to it, just as we are drawn to pregnant woman. It’s human instinct to be fascinated with it.

The first image shows the highly coloured works at the show. We found out from the friendly guard (Northerners seem to be more friendly than London exhibition staff!) that they’re made from sculpted polystyrene and then powdered with pigment. No glue is required, it just sticks. Apparently two toddlers ran into the work a few weeks into the show and they had to call one of Kapoor’s staff up urgently to redo the work. Kapoor hadn’t been anywhere near Nottingham, he relies on his team to recreate his ideas.


All rights reserved by Arts Council Collection

What you see in the foreground appears to be a smooth plastic or glass concave disc in a metal stand. The guard delighted in showing people what it really was. He stuck a stick through the material – it was actually coloured water, spinning in the metal tank at the perfect speed to form that dipped in shape. Once you realised that, you could see bits of dust floating around and around the disc.

The dark blue thing on the wall and the work on the opposite wall were very similar. The dark blue one appeared to be covered in a velvety material, but was in fact more deeply coloured pigment. The other one on the left was highly shiny dark red plastic. They both played with light so that you couldn’t understand how concave they were, or if they were perhaps flat. From sidestepping around the works for a couple of minutes to view it from different angles, you could see that actually it was actually deep – really a giant soup bowl on its side on the wall. One of the ladies at the show was much taken aback when the guard stuck his arm in the blue bowl, she had genuinely believed it to be flat. The light was completely absorbed by the pigment. The shiny plastic one’s shines confuses, it didn’t look flat but it didn’t look that deep.

This is an artist that is not trying to persuade the viewer into any political or religious view – he is simply creating innately appealing forms. The work can ‘speak’ to many people because of this.

There was also a fantastic film showing at the Castle about Kapoor’s Royal Academy show, which explained more about how he made his work and his reasoning behind colour. Unfortunately I can’t find it to play online, but it was an Imagine episode. If you can find it, please let me know! Here’s a short film from YouTube.

In the Imagine film, there was a bit about how they made Yellow. When it was transported from the studio, it became discoloured and Kapoor was very angry. The team tried to protect themselves saying it was a lot better now than it was before – they’d tried to do some work on it before he saw it – but the discolouration showed up the cracks and Kapoor couldn’t have that. It destroyed the illusion. They reinstalled it, and from scaffolding, painted it with a roller until it was completely smooth again. That perfectionism has ensured Kapoor’s success. He said that now he has the luxury of being a perfectionist, he will never compromise. Yellow was not at the Nottingham Castle show, though I wish it was!


Arttattler. Anish Kapoor, Yellow, 1999, Fibreglass and pigment, 600 x 600 x 300 cm, Photo: Dave Morgan, Installation: Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2007-08.

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