Anish Kapoor at the RA

The other week, we decided to visit the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, London in order to view the Anish Kapoor sculpture exhibition.

Outside, Anish had built a very large sculpture consisting of a large number of reflective spheres linked together. It was truly spectacular and we spent a while photographing it.

Immediately inside was a huge steel construction that looked like something a ship-yard would produce. It was enormous – several tonnes at least, fairly rusty and comprised huge sheets of steel bolted together. It was also marked ‘do not touch’ as if a few greasy fingers would harm it! Photography was also banned, just to ensure that the RA sold lots of books on the exhibits!

Next was a room full of piles of turds – at least, that’s what they looked like. Actually, of course, they were turds of extruded clay (at least, I hope that’s what they were!) built up into all sorts of strange shapes. Then a room containing a construction that looked like an enormous musical instrument – a super-tuba. The outside was white but the inside a marvelous purple with reflective flecks. Very beautiful. The only thing it lacked was a mouth-piece to actually make it a functional musical instrument!

Then on into another room that contained a wax-daubed railway track. Running extremely slowly up and down that track, which extended through three galleries, was a giant wax ‘loaf’. It had been set up to completely fill the doorways between the galleries, and the wax had been scraped off the ‘loaf’ where it had squeezed through the doorways and smeared all over the walls. We imagined the fun the cleaners would have to remove the wax when the exhibition finished!

Since this rail-loaf obstructed the normal round of the galleries, we had to return past the Euphonium and the turds then pass through the shipyard into the mirror room, via a brief diversion into the centre of the three rail-loaf galleries, where an officious RA ‘attendant’ kept telling people to “Keep behind the white line” just to ensure, we supposed, that you couldn’t get close enough to be smeared with wax or run over by the wax rail-loaf – although, given that it was traveling at about 0.1mph, that was a fairly low risk!

The mirrors were impressive, and we spent a lot of time there. There was little point in our brief visit to the third of the rail-loaf galleries, where another attendant was nagging away, as the loaf was right at the far end of the track and you couldn’t see a thing without stepping right up to the side of the track and peering through the door, an action guaranteed to draw down a reproach from the RA staff.

Then into the ‘yellow-hole-in-the-wall’ room, with a huge yellow panel with a smooth hole in it. It caused a certain amount of visual confusion as there was no way to easily tell where the hole ended. There were a few other items in this gallery: strange shapes coated with loose powder that looked a bit like poster colour or maybe the powder used in enamelling.

Then the ‘pièce de resistance’: the ‘wax cannon’. This was a pneumatically-powered cannon that fired large blobs of wax from pre-formed ‘cartridges’ through an open doorway and onto the wall beyond. It fired once while we were there (although we were in another gallery) and was attended by a youth who seemed to have a fabulous job: sit at the side of the gallery and read, nipping up every hour or two to slap in another wax-bomb and blast it against the wall. Money for old wax!
Again, the wax was splattered around everywhere, including all over the RA’s carved ceiling and coving. Another fabulous job: cleaning it off!

General comments about the exhibition: excellent stuff, but the RA is not really the right venue. The layout does not lend itself to high volumes of visitors: getting through the ‘turd room’ was a major issue. I know that Anish probably intended to make it a bottleneck, but he was a bit too successful!

About the RA: they are much too po-faced about the whole thing. All they really need is a sign that says something like: “Nasty, yucky wax everywhere: if you get it on your new Armani jacket, then that’s your problem!” and they can do away with the jobsworths who hover over you to make sure you don’t commit sacrilege by touching anything. After all, most of the sculpture is either steel, and therefore not subject to damage by anything less than a Kango hammer, or already looks a bit like industrial (or biological!) waste, so a few more bits broken off or smeared about really won’t make much of a difference!

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