Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery

Filed in Reviews by on October 10, 2012

Anish Kapoor

Lisson Gallery

10 October to 10 November 2012


I was not invited to the press preview of the Lisson Gallery’s exhibition of new work by Anish Kapoor so instead I attended the private view on the evening of  9 October – with about a thousand other people, all struggling through rather too narrow doorways, passageways and staircases or hanging around in the street outside. The crush made me grumpy and my girlfriend even grumpier, so from a reviewer’s perspective, it was not entirely a successful outing. The experience took me back to the Royal Academy in Summer 2009 for all the wrong reasons – that also was a rather unpleasant struggle against the crowds at times. But I also came away from the Academy exhibition feeling enlightened, uplifted and rather in awe. Despite the crush at the Lisson, I felt much the same way this time, obviously not so much by the scale of the work as the Lisson could not possibly emulate the Royal Academy show in that way, but by the imagination,invention and purity of Kapoor’s conception.

Of course,we have to remember that the 2009 show was the first solo exhibition by a living artist at the Royal Academy and there is a distinct possibility that that achievement may turn out to be the pinnacle of Kapoor’s artistic career – indeed it is hard to imagine what greater peaks he or any other artist could scale  – but is that any reason to be disappointed by subsequent efforts? Is the poor man now on a hiding to nothing, whatever he does?

There are few spheres of activity in which Tall Poppy Syndrome is more virulent than the world of Fine Art. Some of those fortunate enough, I assume, to be invited to the press preview seem to be particularly prone to it. Michael Glover, for example, writing in The Independent, in a review replete with pedestrian description but short on anything approaching genuine criticism, argued that not much was new in the show and on that basis awarded it a scintillating 2 stars. I know what he means – really. Neither Bach nor Beethoven have done anything in ages – surely they aren’t worth listening to again after the first hearing? And as for Shakespeare – well, if anyone unearths a new play by him let me know, but otherwise, just don’t bother me. I’ve heard it all before.

Part of the problem with contemporary Fine Art is its frequently childish obsession with novelty. Apparently, I can go to the Barbican now and walk through a shower of rain without getting wet. It’s novel but is it really art? It’s a vulgar amusement, a theme park  experience, an impressive – if fundamentally futile – use of technology, but for me it is no more a work of art than a ride on a roller coaster or a virtual reality video game. Kapoor, on the other hand, mines a rich seam, one not so far from the artistic traditions of the past but one that, nevertheless, has not yet been exhausted, by any means. For me, the successful contemporary artist has to choose a path and stick to it; the creation of a  compelling and consistent corpus which explores to the fullest the artist’s chosen materials and ideas is a million times better than a superficial quest for novelty. Thankfully Kapoor and his public understand that, even if Michael Glover doesn’t.

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John Kavanagh

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John Francis Kavanagh is the founder and editor of Artists Insight.

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