I have to admit that I sometimes laugh at art exhibitions. I shouldn’t do it really, after all art is a serious business and the stuff I laugh at isn’t supposed to be funny. Mark Rothko makes me giggle, you know the huge black on dark grey deck chair canvas that he has in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It just kills me that he managed to convince people to part with massive amount of money to buy it. I tend to smirk at Tracey Emin too, for much the same reason. You have to admire the sheer nerve that goes into putting some of those awful drawings in front of the public.
Yesterday I almost laughed out loud at the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy but for a different set of reasons. Some of it just made me feel great. I think it was Nicholas Serota who said art lifts the spirit and mine was certainly higher when I came out. There are some very original pieces – by which I mean that you are unlikely to see anything like it anywhere else. Even if you don’t have my warped sense of humour you may laugh. When you first come into the exhibition there is a notice saying that the exhibits are fragile – do not touch. The first piece is you come to is a massive thing made of sheet iron about fifteen feet high and thirty or forty feet long. If that is fragile then everything I’ve ever learned about the physical world is wrong.
OK joke over, some of the pieces are fragile and maybe finger marks on the sheets of iron are not part of the plan. Then there is a massive block of wax, which is hardly fragile either. It runs on railway lines and goes to and fro between three galleries. It leaves a trail that is now about 25 centimetres deep. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long enough to see it move very far, well hardly at all really. There is something majestic about it; it’s long enough that when you stand at one end you get that feeling that the tracks go on forever, just like a real railway. The massive amount of deep red wax is spectacular too, especially the way chunks of it have got splattered about in places that I bet it’s going to be hard to clean off. Set against the pristine white walls and gold encrusted architraves of the Royal Academy big splodges of red wax do lighten the tone somewhat.
Then there is the room full of concrete things. Actually it looks like big piles of clay, piles a yard high. He obviously used some sort of extrusion device, so each heap is made of stuff like spaghetti only as thick as your wrist. Each pile is a sort of sculptural shape, like a giant ant heap or some such. They are all different shapes and all of them look as though they didn’t turn out quite right – collapsed bits here and there, and very inexact forms. There are so many packed into the room that it is hard to walk between the pieces to get across the room – but remember they are supposed to be fragile – so mind how you go.
That room made me laugh as well, but it also made me want to take up sculpture again. Somehow there seems to be an adventure in that room. There is a spirit that needs to break new ground, break rules, laugh at the world and show it something new. How can piles of extruded concrete do that? I have no idea, but I want to do it too.
Another room has smaller pieces in shapes and colours. Simple shapes that a child might have made out of papier-mache, but covered in stark primary pigments that achieve an astonishing depth of colour.
There are lots of mirrors too, bent ones, so that the crowd are sometimes upside down, or weirdly distorted. In some places the walls are bent as well. Clever stuff, bend the people with mirrors and then bend the walls for real – you have to laugh. The bendiest piece of all is in fibre-glass, the opening is a huge flattened funnel, that could be lips, leading to a convoluted tube that looks like writhing intestines - inviting lips, that lead into a twisted reality, don’t they all.
Kapoor is not like other artists, he seems to have disconnected himself from the materials. He does this in many ways - mirrors showing things that aren’t true, for instance; or the way he uses colour, deep red wax to hold the railway tracks – who would have thought of that? Railways are all about stone and rock, carved out of mountains, spanning across plains, flying over bridges of concrete and steel. They are steeped in dirt and power, speed and strength. Blood red wax is just something else, there’s no way that you can avoid seeing transport differently now.
Once the shape of something has been freed from everything it is attached to in your brain, it becomes something of itself, something new, holding it’s own in the world, taking it’s place as a shape, as a form rather than a thing. We have become so used as humans to naming things, and keeping them in their place. Kapoor must be a genius to somehow be able to turn everything loose.
I think that is the deep inspiration in this exhibition, freedom – found where you least expect it.
If you haven’t seen it you should go – it closes 11 December.