SPARE a thought for the poor curators who have to install Flashback in the sculpture court of Edinburgh College of Art. There are only two pieces involved in the Anish Kapoor exhibition, but one of them is massive.
Untitled (2010) is a wax bell the colour of blood. Previously unseen in the UK, it stands at 5m high and 5m wide. 'It’s absolutely huge,' says Natalie Rudd, sculpture curator of the Arts Council Collection. "It's incredibly ambitious for us to be showing it in Edinburgh and we won't be showing it anywhere else. So it's a real coup."
With Kapoor's work, it is often sheer volume that makes the first impression. The Turner Prize-winning British sculptor creates pieces that are elemental in shape and arresting in scale. A case in point is the ArcelorMittal Orbit. When this twisting steel observation tower is completed, it will stand at 115m high, a permanent legacy of the London Olympic Games in 2012 and the largest piece of public art in the country.
"Anish has always been interested in this idea of something being self-made, auto-generated," says Rudd. "So in the wax installation, this arm sweeps around and creates this form. There's an absence of the artist's hand, it looks like it's been touched by a robot rather than by a human. Its sheer volume will dwarf everybody standing alongside it."
Edinburgh gallery-goers have already been enjoying the Indian-born sculptor's Suck the Neck at Jupiter Artland. Locked in a 5m square cage, it is a vortex of smooth cast iron spiralling into the ground in such a way that you can never see the bottom. For the duration of the Edinburgh Art Festival, that piece is being joined by Untitled (2010) and also White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers. This work from 1982, when Kapoor was an up-and-coming player in the new British sculpture movement, is a set of four organic-looking objects made from plaster and coated in bright, primary coloured pigments.
"We feel this is a really special Anish Kapoor work and it's one he returns to in his thinking," says Rudd. "He talks about it as a critical piece for him. Many of the subsequent themes and ideas in his practice can be visualised in that initial piece. They look like icebergs rising out of the floor or piles of pigment you might see in Indian market places. This approach to sculpture catapulted Anish into the international art scene in the 1980s."
To get the full Flashback experience is no easy task. The touring exhibition is designed to highlight the way the Arts Council Collection has supported artists at the start of their careers through the purchase of their work, hence the piece from 1982 as well as from 2010 in Edinburgh. But although Flashback is showing in Manchester (run ended), Nottingham (in the autumn) and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (next year), it will have different sculptures in each venue.
"It is a bespoke exhibition that changes because of the nature of the spaces," says Rudd. "Some are historical, some are purpose-built galleries, so we’ve had to adapt. We see that as a positive because it means every venue will be different."
Working in consultation with Kapoor, Rudd and the head of the collection Caroline Douglas put together this mini-retrospective. "We invited Anish literally to flashback on his career to date," she says. "It's been fascinating to work with such an esteemed artist. We wanted to put Anish back into contact with those early works to see where he took it. He really appreciated the opportunity to reflect."
WHERE & WHEN
ANISH KAPOOR: FLASHBACK
Edinburgh College of Art,
4 August–9 October, 10am–5pm
Tel: 0131 221 6000
© Mark Fisher 2011
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