Truth and illusion
28th July 2020
The largest UK exhibition of outdoor sculpture by celebrated artist Anish Kapoor has recently opened at Houghton Hall. Fiona Cumberpatch reports
Watching visitors interact with Anish Kapoor’s organically shaped and geometric sculptures placed in the grounds of Houghton Hall is a fascinating experience. The black granite ‘Untitled’ (2018) sitting on grassland surrounded by woodland reflects not only the trees and the sky, turning them upside down in its concave surface, but it also inverts the viewer. Selfies are taken, examined with baffled smiles, and retaken. People move in close to the works, then walk away again, still looking, as if trying to figure out their place in a world that can often seem confusing and disorientating.
Lord Cholmondeley, owner of Houghton, has become well known for collaborating with leading contemporary artists and establishing subtle links between their work and his historic home, built around 1722 by Sir Robert Walpole.
“The contrast and dialogue between nature and culture, between natural and artificial, between chance and order, are the leitmotiv in the architecture of the grandest country houses and gardens in the early 18th century and a key question in Kapoor’s work,” says Mario Codognato, curator of the Anish Kapoor exhibition.
“A visual and conceptual exchange between inside and outside, reality and artifice is set in motion; the relationship between the spectator and the surrounding space is altered and modified.”
This is particularly relevant with Kapoor’s use of mirrors. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the 5m wide stainless steel ‘Sky Mirror’ (2018), placed at the head of a sweeping view from Houghton Hall, where it reflects the endlessly changing cloudscapes and flocks of birds flying past. “It transforms the space around it and brings the heavens literally down to earth,” explains Lord Cholmondeley in his introduction to the exhibition.
Inside the house, in the Stone Hall, there are eight large convex mirrors painted with rich colours of opaque gold, dark pink and cobalt blue, and displayed over plinths that usually carry ancient Roman busts. They are both beautiful and unsettling, their surfaces reflecting the vast, heavily ornate gold chandelier, the balustrades, the decorative moulding and the shifting light that streams through the windows of the Palladian mansion.
“By the early 1700s (mirrors) were beginning to be used as they are today and their relative accessibility changed the way people viewed themselves,” explains Mario Codognato. “Mirrors multiply the space, not only creating a disorienting effect, but also increasing the ways in which one sees and is seen.”
Playing with form and space is something which recurs in Kapoor’s work, and it can be observed clearly in the large stone works which are displayed in Houghton’s grounds. Rather than carving the stone from the outside, as is traditional, Kapoor might work on the interior instead. Both ‘Untitled’ (1997) hewn from Kilkenny limestone and ‘Rectangle Within A Rectangle’ (2018) made from granite, have rough sides, as if fresh from the quarry, but the interior is a polished and silky-smooth secret.
Lord Cholmondeley describes the artist as “a magician, his elegant reflective pieces throw back the world in mysterious ways,” and this ties in with the artist’s view of his own work. Speaking recently, Anish Kapoor said: “what I’m looking to do is to make objects that question the nature of objects – stones that are empty, heavy that’s not heavy, black objects that veil themselves…”
Magician or illusionist – what’s certain is that Kapoor’s work is both captivating and thought-provoking to see in such splendid surroundings.
Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall. July 12 to 1 November (selected days). Tickets £16, students £10, under 18s free. Tickets must be pre-booked at www.houghtonhall.com
A Fine Balance
Running alongside the Anish Kapoor exhibition is A Fine Balance, in the Stables at Houghton Hall, the latest exhibition curated by Contemporary and Country, aka Paul Vater and Paul Barratt (previously known as Norfolk By Design). The exhibition showcases the work of 43 artists and makers from East Anglia and features paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints, ceramics, furniture and beautiful handmade objects. Although the title of the exhibition was chosen from a novel by Rohinton Mistry before the pandemic began, it resonates with the current climate, as our balance with nature and natural forces has shown itself to be wildly out of kilter.
“Lockdown has undoubtedly influenced the work of some our artists,” says Paul Vater. “It has made them think.” Whether it is Zarya Austin Fell’s still life painting entitled ‘I Can’t Wait to Kiss My Friends,’ or Paul Wolterink’s orange screen print with the words “Nothing Is Permanent” emblazoned on a marker pen (pictured), or the beauty of an abstract seascape by Tracey Ross called ‘Marks in the Mud,’ we are constantly reminded of our transience in the wider world, dominated by forces beyond our control.
Although the Stables space at Houghton has been carefully planned for social distancing, and Paul reports that visitors are respectful, he and Paul Barratt have recently launched their exhibition as a 3-d online experience, where it is possible to browse and buy interactively yet remotely.
Visit www.contemporaryandcountry.com for details.