Kapoor's grand vision: an awesome feat of engineering as much as a towering work of art
Wednesday 09 October 2002
When Tate Modern opened 30 months ago, one defining feature was the 155m-long and 35m-high Turbine Hall by which visitors entered. It was not climate-controlled, so works on canvas or paper could not be be hung there. And the hall was cut by two bridges, one above the other, the lower fixed, the upper moveable, so turbines could be moved.
Yet Unilever had given £250,000 a year to fill this space with art. In the first year, Louise Bourgeois perched a giant spider on the fixed bridge with viewing towers beyond, so visitors saw no art until they were half-way down the hall. Last year, Juan Munoz's split-level work filled only the back half. How could anyone make an impact in this huge space?
This year, the ingenious Anish Kapoor has created a sculpture in stretched PVC occupying the entire space, and negotiating those bridges. The work is made of three steel rings connected by the PVC membrane so taut it seems as solid as cast bronze.
The nerves of all involved were equally stretched when engineers had to work all night to finish installation for the opening today. The work is as much a feat of engineering as artistic vision. Arup, which also built the Millennium (wobbly) Bridge, admitted the project had been "a nightmare and worry". Kapoor, a former winner of the Turner prize, said yesterday that size was not the point. "What I am interested in is that sense of, 'Wow'."
Five years ago, he did something similar at Baltic, the arts centre on the Tyne, when it had been reduced to an outer shell. That PVC sculpture appeared to resemble a huge, double trumpet.
At either end of the Tate hall there is a vast, ear-trumpet-like opening that thins as you move down the building. Then, where the structure passes over the bridges, it opens and widens, downwards and outwards, like a greedy mouth. The whole thing can be taken in only from the viewing windows of the top gallery floor. From there, Kapoor's reference to Titian's painting of the agonising death of a Greek satyr, The Flaying of Marsyas, begins to make metaphorical sense.
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