A unique outdoor installation by one of Britain’s most eminent sculptors, Royal Academician Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall, King’s Lynn, Norfolk.
HAVE I LOST MY MARBLES?
Review by Zoltan Alexander
“Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall” by Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall 2020 / © video by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Going to Houghton Hall is always an emotional and thrilling experience. It is a discovery even when one knows the artist well. Following the annual art programme Houghton Arts Foundation (HAF) continues its tradition with a large-scale exhibition of outdoor sculptures by one of the most celebrated and influential British artists of our time, Anish Kapoor.
The exhibition was originally scheduled to open in March 2020 but was postponed due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Despite current circumstances, Houghton Hall was able to open its doors on 12 July for the second part of the season until 1 November unlike many art galleries and museums, which remained closed.
In 2019, Anish Kapoor was chosen to launch the new gallery space at Pitzhanger Manor of Sir John Soanes with his cryptic, large-scale works, and in 2020, he followed a number of site-specific commissions and the footsteps of artists exhibited at Houghton Hall in previous years: James Turrell (2015), Richard Long (2017), Damien Hirst (2018) and Henry Moore (2019).
The Houghton Art Foundation’s aim is to focus on visitors who wish to discover contemporary art in historic settings.
The works of Anish Kapoor challenge the classical architecture of Houghton, the impressive stately home of the Marquess and the Marchioness of Cholmondeley, and the idyllic beauty of the grounds, whilst being in continuous dialogue and engagement with Houghton’s history. Kapoor has brought 21 of his large-scale pieces, some pre-existing works created over the past 40-years as well as a selection of working drawings from his ground-breaking practice. He unleashed granite, marble and stainless steel from gravity and made them appear to float above the surface.
The outdoor exhibition is centred on a group of polished stone and marble sculptures, many of which have not been seen previously. Probably the most striking piece of all is the iconic 5-metre diameter stainless steel “Sky Mirror” in the axe of the immaculately kept garden, which transforms the space and with its delightful optical effects juxtapositions clouds of the sky, bringing heaven down to earth. Angels were guided by Kapoor.
Was I losing my marbles? Definitely. The scene was a shocking, sharp contrast between contemporary art and classical architecture.
/ VIDEO INTERVIEW
A video interview without an interview. Zoltan Alexander walks through the garden at Houghton Hall with Lord Cholmondeley and films “Sky Mirror” of Anish Kapoor.
"Sky Mirror" by Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall 2020 / Duration 3min30”
Directed by Zoltan Alexander
Music by Kelsey Lu "Dreams"
Narration by Paulo Goude
Editing by Mr Skok of George Smoog
Production © ZOLTAN+MEDIA London
“Anish Kapoor is a magician” Lord Cholmondeley explains. “His elegant reflective pieces throwback the world in mysterious ways. We are proud to have the opportunity to present an important group of Anish Kapoor’s work at Houghton, and are delighted to be able to welcome visitors once again.”
Curator Mario Codognato added: “Norfolk is famous for its big skies, and the day I was there, the clouds were reflected in the concave mirror so beautifully that you felt you were being pulled into a portal to another world. I’ve seen so many of his sky mirrors, but the setting in these glorious English gardens is spectacular.”
HISTORY OF HOUGHTON
Walking through the garden’s narrow paths and corridors one cannot avoid hearing the voices of the past. It is a rare moment to treasure and to forget our harsh reality. I stopped and listened.
In 1720s Houghton was designed by the prominent Georgian architects Colen Campbell and James Gibbs for Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole and was built with an eye to reflecting the wealth, taste, and power of its owner. Houghton today remains one of Norfolk’s most beautiful stately homes and one of England’s finest Palladian houses.
During the 18th-century, Walpole amassed one of the greatest collections of European art in Britain, and Houghton became a museum to the collection. Walpole spared no expense in the decoration of the house, although it would rarely have been used, as he only visited Norfolk twice a year.
The centuries that followed would see the fate of Houghton, and at the end of the 18th-century, the house was inherited by the 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley. It was only when the future 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife, Sybil took on the house after the WW1, that it was restored to its former glory.
Houghton is currently the home of the Marquess of Cholmondeley who was brought up at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire, but spent his childhood holidays at Houghton when his grandparents were still alive. After their deaths, during the 90s he took on the responsibility of running the estates in Norfolk and Cheshire.
Upon arrival Lord Cholmondeley invited us for a walk around the garden to discover Kapoor’s installations followed by the extended exhibition in the Stone Hall.
Laying horizontally on the lawn, a giant monolith piece in granite was positioned with its curved elements reflecting the landscape and distorting our presence. The sculpture “Untitled” is raw on one side, highly polished on the other with double convex curves and looks spectacular with the immaculately trimmed box hedges. With its fine optical effects, voids and volume, the sculpture is simply thrilling. It is pure perfectionism and Kapoor’s work turns the world upside down.
Last Sunday, during the opening when Anish Kapoor saw the sculptures in situ for the first time, he walked around the garden and caressed the curves and the polished surfaces of his marble sculptures.
The garden was designed by Charles Bridgeman in 18th-century who was a proponent of the garden as he idealised views of nature and every view was meticulously measured. That is why Kapoor’s installation looks stunning from any angle. At the time, every hedge, tree and plant was carefully planned to look as natural as possible. No English house was seen without a well-placed historical or mythical statue. Placing Kapoor’s work in this setting, Houghton continues its tradition.
As in an 18th-century garden, Kapoor’s sculptures reflect the human forms with the slight difference that Kapoor is more interested in the inner approach of the body rather than the exterior. The aesthetics for the garden design was developed on philosophy, literature, painting and sculpture and in that sense, Bridgman and Kapoor are an ideal match, as both are skilled at taming nature. It is also a smart match of artist and site.
The shapes of Kapoor’s sculptures echo the human body; curvaceous and fleshy with orifices and cavities, often an endoscopic vision of organ-like pieces, which perfectly interact with the natural veins of the marble. Curves tamed into straight lines by the sculptor’s hands and these geometric organs are carefully placed in a landscape. There is also some fetishist quality about them.
“The whole of the tradition of sculpture concentrates on the positive form. The negative in sculpture has relied on a symbolic relationship with the positive. I have been working to try and leave behind the form and deal with the non-form.” Anish Kapoor
The tour continued into the house and we first entered the elaborately gilded Saloon, with its crimson Caffoy wall-coverings, which was once densely hung with paintings until they were sold to Catherine the Great of Russia. The Saloon corresponds to the double-height Stone Hall designed by William Kent, where Kapoor has replaced the ancient roman busts that Kent placed there, by a series of eight concave, iridescent mirrors of various and intense colours: magenta, cobalt, gold and dark plum.
The “Spanish and Pagan Gold to Magenta”, “Cobalt Blue to Apple and Magenta”, “Spanish and Pagan Gold to Magenta”, “Garnet to Apple Red” and “Pagan Gold to Spanish Gold” pieces have been symmetrically placed on the walls between antique busts, bunches of grapes and vine leaves in stone alongside the marble chimney-piece throughout the hall. These mysterious geometric forms in intense primary hues emerge from the walls confusing the boundaries of the sculpture and the otherwise monochrome room.
In the middle of the hall Kapoor placed on the floor a vast and fleshy marble piece “Mollis”, which looks like a human organ metamorphosed into a pale pink Anthurium, and from the other side, it is shockingly reminiscent of an extracted tongue with a muscular uvula. The installation creates a unique contrast between a minimalist gallery space, as we used to see Kapoor’s work and Kent’s overcharged opulent aesthetics.
“Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall” is a must-see exhibition.
"Sky Mirror" by Anish Kapoor
/ Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai, India and has been living and working in London since the late seventies.
Kapoor became known in the 1980s for his geometric or biomorphic sculptures using simple materials such as granite, limestone, marble and pigment. The sculptures were simple, curved forms, usually monochromatic or brightly coloured, using powder pigment to define the form.
He represented Britain at the 44th Venice Biennale with “Void Field” (1989), for which he was awarded the Premio Duemila for Best Young Artist and won the Turner Prize in 1991. He has honorary fellowships from the University of Wolverhampton, UK (1999), the Royal Institute of British Architecture, London, UK (2001) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford, UK (2014).
In 2013 he was awarded a CBE, and in 2013 he received a knighthood for his services to the arts.
Recent solo exhibitions include “CorpArtes”, Santiago, Chile (2019); Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery, London, UK (2019); Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal (2018); “Descension’’ at Public Art Fund, Brooklyn Bridge, Park Pier 1, New York, NY, USA (2017); Parque de la Memoria, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2017); MAST Foundation, Bologna, Italy (2017); Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City, Mexico (2016); Couvent de la Tourette, Eveux, France (2015); Château de Versailles, France (2015) and The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, Moscow, Russia (2015).
Large scale public projects include “Cloud Gate” (2004) in Millennium Park, Chicago, USA and “Arcelor Mittal, Orbit” (2012) in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, UK., “Temenos” Middlesbrough, UK, and “Ark Nova” (2013) the world's first inflatable concert hall in Japan.
Mario Codognato was the chief curator of MADRE, the new museum of contemporary art in Naples, where he has curated, among others, the retrospectives of the work of Jannis Kounellis (2006), Rachel Whiteread (2007), Thomas Struth (2008) and Franz West (2010).
He has previously worked at the contemporary art project at the Archaeological Museum in Naples, where he curated exhibitions of Francesco Clemente (2002), Jeff Koons (2003), Anish Kapoor (2003), Richard Serra (2004), Anselm Kiefer (2004) and the first-ever museum retrospective of Damien Hirst (2004). He has curated several thematic exhibitions, including “Barock” at MADRE in 2009, and “Fragile” at the Cini Foundation in Venice, in 2013.
From 2014 to 2016 he was chief curator at the 21er Haus of the Belvedere in Vienna, where he has curated “Sleepless” on the history and role of the bed in art, the retrospective exhibitions of Olafur Eliasson, Tomas Saraceno and Sterling Ruby.
Since 2016 he is director of the Anish Kapoor Foundation.
HOUGHTON HALL / PE31 6UE King's Lynn, Norfolk
“Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall” by Anish Kapoor
/ 12 July - 1 November 2020
/ tickets: £16 - they must be pre-booked
“Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall” - curated by Marion Codognato - sponsored by Dorotheum with the participation of Anish Kapoor Foundation, Lisson Gallery and the team of Houghton Hall.