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Mirrors And Mystery: Anish Kapoor at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

I visited sculptor Anish Kapoor’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Read about it after the jump!

I have long been visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art, originally because it was free, but later because there was always something interesting to see. Also, their gift shop holds a special place in my heart, as it was where I purchased my first-ever Lomography camera (a Diana Mini, purchased with a gift voucher that was a farewell gift from a job I hated).

Recently, there had been much talk of an incredible exhibition by Anish Kapoor, of whom I had never heard. Put off from a casual visit by the $20 price tag, I decided to go after a glowing review by my friend Celia. Worried about subdued museum lighting, I loaded up my OM-1 with some Fujicolor Press 800 film and stood in line to buy my ticket and check it out.

Photo by lokified

The first exhibit you notice (and that, unbeknownst to me, I had been viewing for weeks whenever I was at Circular Quay), is Sky Mirror (2006):

Sky Mirror is a 10-metre polished stainless steel concave mirror pointed upwards at an angle to reflect the sky above. When you stand beneath it, it looks like this:

(That’s me, behind the posing family)

When you’re beneath it, and it’s a clear day, the sky forms an arching gate over the reflection. Each viewing of Sky Mirror is unique, as the constantly changing clouds and sky shape what we see. The artist notes “what is happening is that the space of the object is confusing and one can’t quite figure it out; it’s both a space and an object.” Sky Mirror has been displayed under New York’s Rockefeller Centre, and in London’s Kensington Gardens.

After Sky Mirror, the sculpture getting the most press is My Red Homeland, and it’s easy to see why:

Photo by lokified

Occupying its own room on Level 1, My Red Homeland is a 25-tonne, 12-metre sprawl of red paraffin wax, topped by a massive hammer-like structure. The hammer turns at a rate of one rotation per minute, slowly-ever-so-slowly carving a path through the wax. The sculpture was already far lower than it was in previous pictures I had seen in the newspaper. The smell of all the paraffin in one place was fantastic, and I flashed back to squishing just-melted candlewax between my fingers when I was a kid. I heard from Celia that when the workman were bringing in the wax, one enquired if there was any particular way he wanted it assembled. “Just pile it together.” said the artist (anecdotally).

Many of the works scattered around the gallery were untitled, but all were different and engaging, such as this acrylic cube, with a three-dimensional, nebula-like explosion of bubbles:

A mirrored depression in the wall, which initially shows you upside down, but as your eyes adjust, the lines disappear, and it is as if you’re viewing another space:

A round mirror, formed out of linked triangular shards of glass in a curve, giving back a million flickering reflections as well as the sounds of voices:

Another depression, this one a dome on its side, a maroon half-sphere that gives the impression of a floating white disc, along with an almost physical feeling of extreme depth:

Giant concrete volcanic shapes (which to me resemble nothing more than nests of mud-dauber wasps), randomly affixed to walls:

Photo by lokified

A giant bracket of curved glass, giving both a normal reflection and a flipped, distorted one. An art student made sketches…

Photo by lokified

…while others posed.

Other untitled sculptures were impossible to photograph, as you needed two eyes and a brain to understand the illusion. Squares painted to become 3D tunnels of darkness, squares with a gradient that makes them a hole in the wall.  

The named sculptures came in all forms. 1000 Names, one of Kapoor’s earliest works, references the many names and forms of Vishnu, and is composed of geometric forms made of raw powdered pigment in a clean white room:

Blood Cinema, a large, translucent red lens, with 4 planes of reflection, turns the hall behind into a tubular fisheye tunnel, reminiscent of an artery:

At first I was nonplussed by Memory, a huge steel zeppelin, but curved slightly wrong to appear larger than it is…

Photo by lokified

…until I went to the next room, also called Memory, which was a dark room were the zeppelin amplified, distorted, and softened every sound made into the previous room, making it seem dreamlike. Snatches of conversation and distorted noise at the edge of hearing made it somehow a comforting, but unsettling experience.

The largest room, at the end of the gallery floor, contained two large polished structures. S-Curve, a 9-metre undulating sculpture created with two pieces of stainless steel. The curve allows your reflection to go from hyper-realistic to smoothly distorted depending on the angle from which you approach.

Photo by lokified

The one that really caught my attention, though was C-Curve, a (you guessed it), C-shaped curve of steel that is concave on the inside and outside:

Photo by lokified

When you step into the curve, your reflection before becomes incredibly crisp and detailed. However, the minute your eyes focus on yourself, the rest of the room disappears. You are alone in a profoundly singular way. Even the noise fades out. In contrast, when outside, the rest of the room jumps into stark detail while you appear squat and blurry. The whole experience reminded me of the Total Perspective Vortex from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

Speaking of perspective, I have to say that this exhibit seemed to bring out the worst in its audience. Australian museum crowds tend to be uncooperative as a rule, standing at your elbow, bumping into you, blocking views, etc. For a while, I went with it. I started taking photos of the reactions of the other museum-goers rather than the exhibits:

Photo by lokified
Photo by lokified
Photo by lokified
Photo by lokified
Photo by lokified

However, this exhibit’s reflective nature combined with its lax attitude to cameras has made it a mecca for Instagram selfie-seekers, as well as the DSLR crowd. Having to wait 10 minutes while a guy with a $3000 Canon 6D tweaks settings and refocuses is equally as frustrating as waiting on a group of people waving their smartphones around and laughing at “look how big my head looks lulz”.

…He said, grumpily, as he snaps several of his own selfies with his film SLR

Look, I love the idea of museums allowing people to take pictures. That was something I adored about the Pinakotheks in Munich, but the whole experience had more of a funhouse vibe than anything else. Excellent mind-expanding work deserves more respect than what it was getting.

In any case, I found the Anish Kapoor exhibit well worth the price tag, crowds notwithstanding.

Oh, and I went back to the shard-mirror and got my shot.

Photo by lokified
Image from the program.

Anish Kapoor, CBE, RA (born 12 March 1954) is an Indian-born British sculptor. Born in Mumbai, Kapoor has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s when he moved to study art. Wikipedia has more about his life and work.

All photographs by me, except the last one. Some information sourced from the exhibit program and Wikipedia.

written by lokified

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