Anish Kapoor–Flashback at the YSP

On Saturday we went over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – our second visit this year. The Miro exhibition is still on, but one of the main reasons for our visit this time, other than to get out on a nice day to enjoy some fresh air and exercise as well as some world class sculpture, was to see “Flashback”, the exhibition of works by Anish Kapoor in the Longside gallery in the park. The exhibition has been touring the country, and I saw it last year at Manchester City Art Gallery, but J hadn’t seen it and I thought it was definitely worth seeing again. There were some differences compared to the Manchester exhibition; there was no “pregnant wall” and there was a work that wasn’t on display in Manchester – a spinning bowl containing coloured water that reflected its surroundings creating interesting, swirling patterns – unfortunately I didn’t note down what it was called.

Photography wasn’t allowed in the gallery, but there are some pictures of the YSP exhibition on the artist’s website, here.

One of the things I like about Kapoor’s work is that it’s a blend of art, science and engineering. His major works, “Cloud gate” in Chicago and his “Orbit” tower at the London Olympics site are as much engineering constructions as works of art. The Flashback exhibits are interesting works of art, but examine them closely and some of them also illustrate some scientific principles.

To perceive shape and depth we need shadows and reflections. Kapoor has used a very dark blue pigment on two of his works to fool the eye. Void (1994) is a hemisphere attached to the wall. It looks as if it is a solid object, but can you be sure? Adam (1998-9) is a stone block, the height of a typical human. On the front there’s a dark blue rectangle that looks rather like a piece of felt that’s been stuck onto the surface of the stone. But is it?

In one corner of the gallery there are three large circular, concave mirrors, two of them silvered and the other a blood red colour. It’s a work entitled “Her Blood” (1998).

Image source:

The work provides a good demonstration of how concave mirrors display images. Stand close and the image (although distorted as they are not designed to provide a perfect reflection) is the right way up. Move away and when you’re a critical distance away the image flips so that it’s upside down. A good science lesson for art lovers! But there’s another surprise. It was interesting to watch people standing close to the mirrors who were obviously confused, looking around. They could hear voices although no one was near them. The mirrors were also parabolic sound mirrors. Sound waves were gathered by the dish and focused in front of the disc. It was particularly noticeable when the observer was stood at the critical distance – the focal point.

For me, the way the works were displayed meant they weren’t as effective as when they were shown in Manchester. The natural light pouring in through the large windows at the Longside gallery did spoil the optical effects associated with some of the exhibits to some extent. And Her Blood had their own room  in Manchester whereas at the YSP they were propped in a corner of the room and I don’t think this did the work justice. But I still enjoyed seeing the exhibition again. And I have to comment on the friendly and helpful staff in the gallery, one young lady in particular who took some time to talk to us about the work and share some stories about the exhibition.

I’ve never seen a pregnant wall before


On Saturday I finally got around to visiting the Anish Kapoor exhibition “Flashback”  showing at Manchester City Art Gallery, which finishes on Sunday 5th June. I’m glad I made the effort – it was excellent.

Although he’s a major artist, I don’t know too much about Kapoor, so this was another step on my journey of discovery of sculpture which started a couple of years ago with my first visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

One of the standout works for me was “When I am pregnant” (1997). It was, essentially, a bump built into the wall using a fibreglass form. The gallery wall had been adapted so that the bump merged seamlessly into it. The work must have to be re-created every time it is transferred from one exhibition to another. It can’t simply be picked up and moved. I guess this raises some interesting questions about whether its the same piece or a new one.

From the side, the bump was clearly visible, but when viewed head on it was difficult to make out due to the way it projected from the wall, its colour (identical to that of the wall) and the diffuse lighting employed in the gallery so that there were no distinct shadows. It was a disconcerting effect making it seem as if my eyes were out of focus. Form was only provided by the colour of the floor reflecting on the underside of the bump. Without this it would have been almost visible from the front. A clever use of optical effects.