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Posts Tagged ‘Anish Kapoor’

The splendid website ThinkinGardens hosted a discussion a while ago on sculpture in the garden. One commenter argued that a garden setting can enhance a sculpture, but that she had never seen sculpture enhance a garden. Instead  “as you drop a sculpture into a garden setting, it takes centre stage shouting ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ … The garden becomes a backdrop.”

It’s an interesting notion, and I decided to test it by an entirely unscientific trawl through my photo archives, looking for images of sculptures in gardens. These are not sculptures designed and installed at the same time as the garden, where you might expect a thoughtful balance between the two; they are pieces added subsequently, most of them as temporary exhibitions in established gardens.

First, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 16-day display The Gates in New York’s Central Park in 2005 (OK, it’s not a garden, but it’s a good match in other ways). I was lucky enough to discuss the project with its creators shortly before installation (see photo of the duo with their plans). They intended the 7,500 saffron-coloured structures weaving through the park to encourage people to look at this iconic landscape in a new way. Sadly it seemed to me not really to work. The boxy shape of the gates did offer an interesting mirror of the rectangular skyscrapers around the park, but the thousands of structures somehow seemed like they had just been plonked in the park, shouting “Look at me!” without adding any new perspectives.The GatesThe Gates 2 The Gates 3Here’s a more successful example from summer 2011: woven willow and chestnut structures by the American Patrick Dougherty at the chateau of Trévarez in Brittany, northwest France. Some of Dougherty’s works do undoubtedly overwhelm their surroundings, but at Trévarez it seemed to me the organic structures helped you look afresh at the garden.The shape of this temporary shelter offered a sinuous modern version of the adjacent stone building, and the windows framed surprising and pleasing views of the sumptuous planting.

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Another set of willow structures, this time by Tom Hare, was installed at Kew Gardens as part of its 250th anniversary celebrations. They represent seeds – some of them more interesting than this one of a devil’s claw – and they have a nice sinuous quality. But for me they don’t really enhance our appreciation of the surrounding garden, especially with that rather naff little barrier to keep the sculpture decidedly separate from its setting.

Kew1Another temporary display in a botanical garden, with another intrusive barrier, is this 2012 example of dancing figures by Zadok Ben-David, in Singapore. The figures are smaller than you might think, much smaller than actual size, and seem somehow fiddly, and disengaged from their surroundings by that distracting chain barrier.

Singapore Botanical Garden3 Singapore Botanical Garden2 Singapore Botanical Garden1Here’s another figurative set of sculptures, but I think these work much more cohesively in their surroundings. These are some fine Rodin figures, installed as a temporary display in the square outside the CaixaForum art gallery in Madrid. The building is a striking mix of oxidised cast iron and brick, set off by a large Patrick Blanc vertical garden to one side. The traditional figures provided a lovely counterpoint to their contemporary setting and make us admire both the building and the green wall all the more.

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A very simple example next, from Le Nôtre’s vast gardens at Sceaux, south of Paris. The sculpture by René Letourneur is not temporary, but it is a late addition – being installed around 1950 in this seventeenth century landscape. Called L’Aurore (dawn), it is positioned carefully to catch the morning light in a shady corner, and makes us notice and admire a quiet space that otherwise would get lost among the grandeur and dazzle of the rest of Sceaux.

Sceaux1Here’s a very different use of sculpture in a Le Nôtre garden, this one by Takashi Murakami at Versailles in 2010. I wrote at the time how much I loved the juxtaposition between the obscene extravagance of the Sun King’s palace and the mad plastic manga creations displayed incongruously in its midst. The snarling Oval Buddha in the gardens offered wonderful visual links with the gilded fountains and gates of Le Nôtre’s great design, and a thought-provoking contrast with its many baroque statues. Not many places could stand up to that vast gleaming sculpture, but it makes us admire Versailles anew that these gardens definitely could.

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Versailles 3  Versailles1Versailles 4Le Notre gardens

Here’s my final example: it’s a temporary exhibition in a traditional display space, not a garden at all. But for me it illustrates perfectly how even the most enormous, preposterous installation that shrieks “Look at me!” can still profoundly enhance its surroundings. This is Anish Kapoor’s bonkers Leviathan sculpture that filled the Grand Palais in Paris for five weeks in 2011. It was a vast purple rubber cathedral swelling up into the belle époque exhibition hall, making the visitor gasp at its size and audacity. But it did not overwhelm the setting; instead its mad shape and size drew equal attention to the beautiful ironwork and glass of this most majestic of spaces.

Monumenta3 Monumenta2 Monumenta1These are personal choices and views of course. I’d be interested to know what others think.

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Every year Paris stages Monumenta, a temporary installation by a single artist in the vast iron and glass spaces of its Grand Palais.

I remember describing last year’s work, produced by the British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor: “The whole thing is vast, magical and utterly bonkers. I can’t quite find words to explain the experience. You enter inside the ‘balloon’ first of all, and everything is red and hot and echoey and womb-like, with shadows of the ironwork structure of the building playing on the surface far above you. Then you get to wander round, still in the enormous Beaux-Arts hall of the building, but now outside the sculpture. It’s like seeing the workings – now you understand that it’s a multi-sphered purple shape nestling under the dome, but you also have the new experience of seeing the huge, organic shape filling that vast space, like an alien life form gradually permeating everywhere in the void. I can’t imagine the genius of the man to imagine and then create something quite so preposterous, or so perfect. Poor Daniel Buren, who I think has been commissioned to do Monumenta 2012.”

Now a recent return visit to Paris has allowed me to see Monumenta 2012. This year’s artist is indeed Frenchman Daniel Buren, perhaps best known for his fun, controversial black and white columns in the cour d’honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris.

His installation, called “Excentrique(s), Travail In Situ”, is a mass of raised, coloured, transparent disks. With their narrow supports, they reminded me of umbrellas and – in the way the light shines through them to create pools and patterns of colour – of contemporary stained glass. Buren himself has compared the structures to trees in a forest, especially appropriate among the green ironwork of the space.

My favourite elements of the installation lay above and below the disks: 45 metres up in the roof, Buren had added a checkerboard of blue panels to the central glass dome, allowing for a dramatic interplay between the colours of the disks and the glass of the roof above.

Then, on the floor in the centre of the hall, lie a number of circular mirrors, which on approach create sudden striking reflections and contrasts (although something of a risk for anyone in a skirt…).

There is a certain defensiveness I think about the scale of this year’s installation. Buren has claimed that monumentality is a quality as much as a particular size, while an appreciative critic has argued that, at three metres high, the relative smallness of the Excentrique(s) allows the monumentality of the Grand Palais itself to shine through. But for me, having seen 2011’s purple balloons, I found Buren’s transparent disks rather domestic and almost timid: they lacked the extraordinary spatial confidence that Kapoor (and before him, Richard Serra) had demonstrated. They may be thoughtful and pretty, but they lack the sense of marvel that is Monumenta at its best.

Monumenta 2012 continues at the Grand Palais until 21 June.

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