Anish Kapoor, Royal Academy, London

3.00

The silliest work in the Anish Kapoor exhibition is a kind of shooting range. A cannon is aimed through one of the Royal Academy's ornate doorways. (The public are safely held back.) Every 20 minutes, an operator loads it with a bucketful of deep red gunk. It fires. The gunk hits the wall through the doorway, dribbles down, piling up at the bottom, with much spatter. This will accumulate over the next three months.

It's silly because it's an unhappy mixture of solemn and fun. You have the severe sensory purity of an intense single colour – against the merriment of guns, bangs, splats, sticky mess all over. Kapoor's work has always been on the edge of entertainment, even as it's tempted to high and grand pretension.

His earliest signature sculptures from the early 80s were geometrical solids on the floor, covered in powdered pigments. Their colours were so intense, your eye lost its grip on their volumes. It's good to see these small, dazzling objects again. This isn't a retrospective, but there's enough here to remind you of Kapoor's powers as an illusionist. He's invented some very original optical tricks.

There are the works using concavities and convexities, hollows and bulges whose curvatures are so smooth it's easy for them to disappear into the wall. He's done some classy distorting mirrors too, in which both the viewer and the mirror seem to leave gravity behind.

My favourite illusions – none here, I'm sorry to say – are the ones where an oblong is cut into a wall, and the inside space is painted so dark that it recedes into unfathomable depths. But then, seen another way, the depths come smartly up to the surface, and what you see is simply an oblong, painted flat onto the wall. Delightful!

These hallucinatory effects have tempted many people to find spirituality. We take sensory disorientations as a glimpse of the beyond, and Kapoor's titles haven't discouraged that. Equally, he's brought in a sense of the flesh, with strong carnal reds and blatant sexual symbolism (holes, protuberances), building up a vocabulary of "universals" – body and spirit, male and female, earth and heaven. The sex-symbolism can be terrible. See the writhing serpentine form that ends in a big red lipsticked vagina-mouth.

And lately Kapoor's art has been drawn, not only to illusion and symbolism, but to big spectacle. The result is generally vanity. In the RA's forecourt, a 15-metre column stands, made of 75 mirror-spheres, reflecting themselves and their surroundings – an executive toy, vastly enlarged.

Inside, another work occupies five continuous galleries, the whole width of the RA's exhibition space. This is more worth looking at. It's hard to describe. More deep red gunk is involved. A rail track runs through the galleries. A kind of train, more like a huge loaf, travels along it, narrowly passing through the arched doorways. It creeps slowly, barely moving. The track is filled with gunk, the doorways are rimmed in it, the train is a solid block of it, shaped by being forced through those arches.

This is an extraordinary spectacle. The thing I call a train, it isn't really like a train or a loaf. The red gunk doesn't really suggest blood. The way the train inches through the doorways, leaving a scraped ridge of gunk, it's not penetration. I don't know what it's like.

And it's a good thing about this work, that it's hard to imagine just what corner of culture or the artist's mind it came from. (It's title is Svayambh, Sanskrit for self-generated.) But beyond that, for something so strange and big, it ought to be amazing. It isn't. It's just strange and big. A deep red elephant.

But there's something else to see here, neither grand nor tricksy. What is it like? It's a room full of sandcastles, grey sandcastles made from fat sandworm casts. These mounds of matter are viscous and coiled, squeezed out of a tube, wriggling and woven. It's like something evolving and fabricated, and – a stranger in this company – a perfectly serious piece of sculpture.

To 11 December (0844 209 1919)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform