Thursday, 5 November 2009

Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy

I went to the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy in London on Saturday. At Tate Britain (for what turned out to be a disappointing Turner Prize exhibition), Halloween activities had been organised for children who were constructing bats (the flappy sort), masks, hats etc but there was no such obvious reason why the Royal Academy was so busy except for the fact Kapoor has become something of a pop star. Having bought tickets in advance I was spared the queue which was about 50 yards long.

Inside there was no escaping the masses. Oddly, for a couple of pieces, this seemed somehow right. Whilst photographs of Svayambh (“auto-generated”) installed in other, empty, exhibition halls suggest it might be a process calling for quiet contemplation, on a busy London Saturday, it became a piece of, albeit dramatically slow, theatre. One elderly gent, chivvying his companion to hurry (quite unnecessarily given that it must move only an inch a minute) to the next room, turned to me almost apologetically to explain that it was unexpectedly exciting.

In another room, a cannon fires a slug of paint through a doorway onto a (fake Royal Academy) wall every 20 minutes. For the whole of the waiting time, the room was packed, spilling out into the next gallery with the quiet middle class expectation of a Glastonbury crowd. I cannot really see the point of this piece without such a crowd. The pleasure is in that shared expectation.

But other exhibits could not cope with this sort of background. An enormous yellow indentation in a wall really needed solitary space, with other viewers merely a distraction.

On such occasions I see the attraction of our own tiny gallery in this northern town, far from the Big Smoke: the Abbot Hall. Last month I went from an almost empty gallery looking at the small but beautifully formed David Nash exhibition. The opposite of theatre.