Michael Clarke welcomes the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Hayward Gallery
For more than a decade now, Indian-born sculptor Anish Kapoor has been one of the rising stars of British art. The generally calm and contemplative nature of his work sets him far apart, however, from the provocative shock-tactics associated with Damien Hirst and many other young British artists seen in the Royal Academy's "Sensation" exhibition.
The most striking feature of Kapoor's sculpture in the Eighties was its combination of abstract form and brilliant colour. Solids hovering between the geometric and the organic but often suggesting flowers, fruits, sponges or fossils, were made even more ambiguous by the dazzling, powdered pigments showered over them.
Objects that might otherwise have been measurably firm were, in effect, placed out of reach. They attracted a great deal of admiring attention with many critics quick to associate several aspects of Kapoor's work with his Indian background.
Kapoor's early success was publicly acknowledged when he represented Britain at the l990 Venice Biennale, winning the coveted Premio Duemile prize, and confirmed the following year when he was awarded the Turner Prize too.
Since then, his work has continued to develop in scale, appearance and range of materials. Paralleling works in wood, polystyrene and resin are other free-standing pieces in hollowed-out, pierced or polished stone and metal as well as more expansive structures that project from or recede into the wall or floor, sometimes encompassing the viewer entirely.
This long-awaited Hayward exhibition is Kapoor's first public show in Britain. Sculptures produced over the past 10 years are assembled beside new works created especially for the occassion but all are integrated into an installation that expands through both floors, along a corridor and out on to the roof terraces. Following the winding circuit from beginning to end is a consuming experience and one that stretches the spatial limits of the gallery.
Entering the first, groundfloor gallery is like passing into a colourless void as the usually secure floor and walls open up into an apparent infinitely receding space. Upstairs are rough-edged, deeply burrowed but not quite pierced alabaster pieces of such translucent immateriality that they suggest muslin much more than opaque stone. In the final gallery, an enormous, suspended dome encloses the viewer but of such an immeasurably deep red that, once again, infinity is invoked, although on this occasion by colour rather than form.
Adults and children will find Kapoor's seductive effects hard to resist. "Dragon", a ragged set of large stones smothered in intense blue pigment, seems to float by. But if purists find the inverted and distorted reflections in the polished metal pieces, particularly the double-concaved corridor, too close to hall-of-mirrors trickery, they will surely be satisfied by the consummate refinement with which Kapoor has chiselled and stained seemingly unfathomable, dark depths into some weighty monoliths Those who interpret Kapoor's free-standing pieces in terms of the interior spaces of the body and mind will find just as much support in the artist's statements as those given to seeing a mystical dimension in his more environmental structures.
The information pack for teachers is particularly generous with quotations that help to clarify aspects of the work. But it also highlights Kapoor's multicultural background: the child of a Hindu father and Iraqui-Jewish mother, educated in Israel and Britain but now working in a fully international context. For many inner-city teachers, this might prove the most profitable aspect to pursue with their equally multicultural pupils.
Hayward Gallery, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. Until June 14. Teacher's evening is on Friday, May 8. For free invitation and pack, fax: 0171 401 2664. Advance copies of the pack are also available when making a group booking. Tel: 0171 921 0951. Artists are available as gallery guides Wednesdays llam-2pm. A video exploring Kapoor's work runs throughout the duration of the exhibition. For further information on gallery talks, live interview with Kapoor and Saturday family tours, tel: 0171 921 0600