On September 23rd, the B&C Club visited Anish Kapoor’s latest solo show at the historic Houghton Hall estate in Norfolk.
Featuring 24 monumental sculptures and mirror works as well as a selection of drawings, it is the Turner Prize-winner’s largest outdoor exhibition in the UK. Curated by Mario Codognato, the show is representative of Kapoor’s body of work created over the past 40 years, whilst being in continuous dialogue with Houghton’s history.
One of the most influential sculptors working today, Anish Kapoor eliminates the distinction between two and three dimensions, between perception and experience, increasing the relationship between man and his environment. The effects of illusion are powerful. Concave or convex mirrors that reflect and distort the viewer whilst incorporating them into the composition are some of his most iconic pieces.
Centerpiece of the exhibition, Sky Mirror (2018) is a 5-meter diameter stainless steel mirror angled up towards the sky, bringing it down to the ground.
Placed on the lawn, it is a work in constant evolution, lyrically capturing the shifting parameters of light and weather. Sometimes clouds cross the silver circle, or an azure sky fills it, inscribing the work in the tradition of landscape painting. The optical illusion also recalls how visitors at Tate Modern in 2003 interacted with Olafur Eliasson’s artificial sun installation, The Weather Project.
In an interview, Kapoor stated that « the only works that involve the outside in a truly successful way are those that involve that fundamental element of the outside: the relationship between earth and sky. […] Gardens are more suitable in some ways because they understand symbolism. » By merging object, viewer and environment into one tangible fluctuating form, the artist shapes what he calls a ‘non-object’, in other words, a leap into an inner void. Kapoor’s interest in what is unable to embody is manifested here in the contrast between the overwhelming presence of this shinning colored form and the enigmatic series of absences that lie in it.
Curator Mario Codognato says of Sky Mirror: « Its surface reflects the ever-changing environment, the movement of the clouds, the brightness of the stars, the flocks of birds, the nothingness and the infinite: all of this and none of this. An oracle of light and ether, its materiality is dispersed into the boundlessness of the heavens. »
Kapoor’s contemporary works on display in and around the Hall’s 18th century interiors and expansive gardens, beyond producing a series of formal contrasts, initiate a dialogue that draw unexpected connections and challenge the visitor’s experience of the venue itself.
This interaction is undoubtedly the ideal framework to highlight the numerous dualities the artist plays with. Surface and depth, nature and culture, spirit and matter, visible and invisible, masculine and feminine…so many places in which the energy of transformation and evolution resides.
Built by Sir Robert Walpole, Great Britain’s first Prime Minister in around 1722, and designed by prominent Georgian architects Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, Houghton Hall is one of the country’s finest examples of Palladian architecture. The house and award-winning gardens have been open to the public since 1976. The Houghton Art Foundation’s aim is to focus on visitors who wish to discover contemporary art in historic settings. Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall follows exhibitions of work by James Turrell (2015), Richard Long (2017), Damien Hirst (2018) and Henry Moore (2019).
Inside, a series of painted mirrors replace ancient Roman busts with the disorienting reflections of the visitors. According to Codognato, « While portraits of infinity, these mirrors also reflect the self, triggering its narcissistic dimension in the self-awareness that they provoke ».
The mirrors are complemented by a series of large granite, onyx and marble sculptures, a significant body of work that Anish Kapoor has been pursuing since 1987. Their characteristic organic cavities and curves, allude to the human body and thus subvert Western canon and the classical statues of mythical figures that usually adorn country houses.
Haunting, ethereal, these inhabited anatomical forms seem tamed par the weightiness of the materials they are made of. The stone allows Kapoor to question the polarities of the universe, in what could be seen as a reference to Foucault’s theory.
Anish Kapoor commented: « The whole of the tradition of sculpture concentrates on positive form. The negative in sculpture has relied on a symbolic relationship with the positive. I have been working to try and leave behind form and deal with non-form. »
Anish Kapoor. Houghton Hall, Norfolk. Until 1 November 2020. https://www.houghtonhall.com