Forty barrels of red paraffin wax, each weighing 200kg, were used in Anish Kapoor's monumental 2003 sculpture My Red Homeland. Fifty six barrels actually arrived in 22 shipping containers with the rest of the parts of Kapoor's sculptures, which form a new exhibition that opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney this week.
This startling circular sculpture takes up the whole room and involves a large motorised steel blade slowly tracing its circumference, rolling the wax with it, like a knife on a cake.
It takes an hour for the blade to cut its course through the 25 tonnes of wax, which is mixed with Vaseline and a deep red pigment. While it gives the feeling of emerging from an industrial site, the slickness of the wax reminds you of oil spills.
One of the world's most famous sculptors, Kapoor brought two people from his London studio to help with the installation, working in collaboration with a team of engineers and MCA staff for the first major presentation of his art in Australia.
Another one of his most ambitious works, Memory (2008), a bulbous and rusting 24-tonne Corten steel structure, had to be taken apart into close to 160 pieces in order to travel here. When it was reconstructed it completely filled one of the MCA's galleries.
As you can't view the whole work from a single point, you must imagine it by piecing together memories of the work from different locations, according to Deutsche Bank, the major partner of the exhibition. The bank commissioned the original work for the Deutsche Guggenheim, in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, in New York.
Kapoor was born in 1954 in Mumbai, India, moving to London in the early 1970s, where he quickly gained international attention. More recently, his commissioned permanent artwork, Orbit, was the official London 2012 Olympics monument.
This exhibition explores the artist's continual experimentation across a variety of materials including clay, plastic, pigment, steel and wax,
In Sky Mirror (2006) Kapoor has positioned a 10m, polished stainless-steel concave mirror upwards to create an inverted portrait of the sky. It now sits outside the revamped gallery reflecting views of Circular Quay.
Kapoor says it was first positioned just after 9/11 outside the Rockefeller Centre in New York. "I was very conscious of what happens in the mirror . . . not only did it bring the sky down to the ground but it turns that iconic building upside down."
Then it was shown in the "idyllic landscape" of Kensington Gardens in London.
"It was more like a work of Constable with the clouds floating in and out," he says. "In certain light, it becomes almost like a portal. Now here (Kensington Gardens) because of the huge body of water in front of it and the boats and the activity it's a completely different kind of thing."
Of public art, Kapoor says few cities have "scale" despite having "big objects" like buildings. But Sydney does, citing the Sydney Opera House and the bridge.
"The bridge has an extraordinary sense of scale. Sculpture needs to deal with those problems. There's been a long tradition in contemporary art of a kind of embarrassment about scale. (But) scale is a tool of sculpture. We need to work with it. If public art can engage that properly it can perhaps deal with questions of wonder and awe and real communal engagement."
While he doesn't want to make art that doesn't address the viewer, Kapoor has "nothing to say" as an artist. "I don't want to have anything to say. Maybe making work is about the process of sort of getting out of the way."
As in, "get out of the way and make room for everybody else".Anish Kapoor is showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the Sydney International Art series until April 1.
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