Beyond Buildings


Kapoor in Kensington: An Immense Moment

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If you need a good hit of either immensity or self-knowledge, I would suggest you find your way over to Kensington Gardens in London within the next few weeks. There, among the allées reaching out to London's human and natural monuments, you will find four recent sculptures by Anish Kapoor. Together, they create a new geometry within this great void, one that is both related to our own corporeal presence and that reaches out to a scale we can never truly know.

I have always liked Kensington Gardens, not only because it provides some of the most elegant, simple, and well-used park spaces in any major city around the world, but also because it makes the relationship between the city's geography and its monumental markers so clear. It preserves an abstracted sense of the land's roll through the plains of the Thames Valley, with its largest spaces riding a barely perceptible ridge and its most dramatic gathering points following the flow of geology and water down past Hyde Park Corner and Green's Park to the river. The order of the paths both follow and intersect that logic, allowing you to trace the contours without the buildings that cover them elsewhere, or letting you traverse the folds as you point yourself to the monuments of power, as well as to distant sites as Hampstead Hill, that surround the park.


Kensington Park (at left) and Hyde Park, London.


Kapoor fixed his four sculptures in that grid. He aligned them to form a rough cross at the park's heart, oriented to the four cardinal directions. The easternmost, one of his “sky mirrors,” stands adjacent to Longwater, part of the interconnected ponds and streams leading downvalley. Raised to the sky, it reflects the complexity of England's ever-changing weather. Its twin is Sky Mirror Red, which Kapoor placed in the more formal Round Pond. It stands in front of Kensington Palace, its redness alien, but also reminiscent of the structure's brick. The satelitte dishlike form reflects, but also colors, as if a sandstorm had suddenly kicked up from the Sahara. Perhaps it is a vision of the apocalypse, when the sky will turn red, but its main result is to create a moment of ever changing otherness within the park.


Sky Mirror, courtesy


Sky Mirror (Red), courtesy

The third element is a C-Curve, which is an object of that shape. The outside curve gives the park –and you and your fellow inhabitants—back to you in a distorted manner. The inside curve reverses the order of things, standing the reality on its head. The best moments are when both the world as it is, though distorted by art, is visible together with the completely other world only present in the mirror. The only unfortunate element is the sculpture's concrete base, which partially ruins the effect by reminding you of the object, rather than its effect.


C-Curve, courtesy


The piece at the center of the whole composition, and in my opinion the strongest of all the four, is the Non-Object (Spire). It is a drop of liquid sky that has fallen from the heavens, spread through the grass, and frozen into a spire. Like the other three pieces, it reflects you made strange, the sky caught in all its immensity and mutability, and the park, but here it all flows together. The world becomes one, though a distorted one, at the park's heart.


Non Object (Spire), courtesy


These objects are, like almost all Kapoor's work, gorgeous because of their finish, the fluidity of their form, and their utter, but simple strangeness. Appearing within our everyday life, Kapoor's art reflects, changes, mixes, and makes immense what is normal and unnoticed. I wish buildings could adopt such power.

If you miss this installation, you can always see Kapoor's work at Millenium Park in Chicago (“The Bean”), and these four pieces, which date from 2007, will no doubt be installed at other places around the world. Keep your eyes open for a moment of immensity.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.