It is an elite minority of artists who have been invited to showcase their works in the hallowed halls of the Royal Academy of Arts since it was founded in 1768.
The last time the RA dedicated all of its vast gallery space to the work of just one contemporary British artist was 1988, and the man in question – Henry Moore – had been dead for two years.
Now, two decades later, all of the RA's five galleries are to be given over to the work of Anish Kapoor. To mark the moment he will wheel in a cannon and a cannoneer, who will load it with giant red wax pellets every 20 minutes and fire it at the wall, where the projectiles will explode at a speed of 50km/h. The work, Shooting into the Corner, was described as a "kind of psycho-drama" by the artist. "In a violent world, at least one set of meanings is obvious with this piece... The making of a mark is a violent act."
Much of the remaining space will be filled by a monumental sculpture called Svayambh (a Sanskrit word which translates as "auto-generated"), which comprises a 40-ton blob of wax atop a sunken railway track that will make its way repeatedly around the galleries, leaving a residue behind as it attempts to squeeze through each of the six entrances.
While these works may be shocking for those unaccustomed to seeing contemporary works at the RA, the real surprise is yet to come; Kapoor is creating up to six new works that are likely to be breathtaking in size, including one for the courtyard outside.
Kapoor, whose exhibition opens on 26 September, said he was delighted when the Academy approached him a year and a half ago, but also "astonished" that the unconventional nature of his installations met with no opposition from trustees. "It's a really great honour to be shown in this venerable institution and to be part of what may be a new phase in its growing evolution... To my astonishment, eveyone at the RA embraced the clear difficulties I put before them with these works, which are very challenging," he said.
The RA recently rented out space to the contemporary art gallery Haunch of Venison, sparking debate on the artistic direction of the institution and drawing criticism that it had opened its doors to contemporary art in an attempt to make more money.
Charles Saumarez Smith, the RA's director, said the institution, which is privately funded, had always considered the financial prospects of its exhibitions. "We have to spend time thinking about the issue of how many people are going to come. We have great confidence that [Kapoor's show] will be a big popular and public success," he said.
Kapoor, a Turner-prize winner who was elected a Royal Academician in 1999, follows European artists such as Georg Baselitz in filling the Academy in recent years. Kapoor is celebrated for works which are gargantuan in scale and often bright red. In 2002 he drew huge crowds to Tate Modern's Turbine Hall with Marsyas, an enormous trumpet-like structure, and is set to install Temenos, a public sculpture in Middlesborough, soon after the opening of the RA show.
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