Cream Tea, Dim Sum and Anish Kapoor, by Sam Jansen
There’s lots of splendid meaty stuff for the viewer to enjoy at Anish Kapoor’s exhibition at the Royal Academy: ‘Shooting Into The Corner’ (2008-9), Kapoor’s (maybe) phallic cannon, is getting all the praise it deserves, as is the elegantly sexualised ‘Slug’ (2009). The central piece, ‘Svayaymbh’ (2007), is conceptually terribly neat and contained, for all its apparent collapse (as such, it’s the very opposite of the Tate Modern ‘Marsyas’ (2002)). Go, go and see all of it.
However, there remain three elements of Kapoor’s Academy show, none created by him, which require analysis: the Kapoor Dim Sum, the Kapoor Cream Tea and the Kapoor Retractable Biro.
The Dim Sum first. The Royal Academy’s website reveals its Ping Pong dim sum offer, “a delicious and unique menu inspired by the exhibition”.
What can this mean? It is no jibe at sponsorship: commercial partnerships such as these are part of the reality of contemporary art, and – we must assume – keep the price of entry down. Commercial sponsorship (or, as here, an “Official Restaurant Partnership”) is good news.
Nonetheless, we may properly query what can happen – outside of the commercial necessities – when Kapoor, the artist of scale and immensity (probably), of the fragile made concrete (arguably), is subjected to the absolute reverse, and put on the plate? As Dim Sum, no less.
For in truth, though it takes no leap to find visual echoes of ‘When I am Pregnant’ (2002) in the “sautéed vegetables with fresh baby sweet corn in a fluffy white bun”, nor the bizarre, grey mince like structures of ‘Greyman Cries, Shames Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked’ (2008-2009) in the “golden turmeric dumpling filled with crispy stir fried vegetables”, consumers are left to ask “beyond appearance, what does this do to Anish Kapoor?” What does the customer participate in? What does Kapoor?
What, indeed, do they participate in if they take a bite of the ‘Liberty Cream Tea’ Kapoor offer ; what do they purchase with a Kapoor red retractable pen? (seen above).
“Corporations wish to elevate themselves by association with that which they cannot embody,” says the critic Julian Stallbrass, “including the free play of high art.” Stallbrass is, of course, thinking of bigger companies than Ping Pong (the infamous ‘Georgio Armani’ show at the New York Guggenheim is, perhaps, what he was considering back in 2004).
But surely it is “embodiment” (be it corporate or corporeal) that is key here. Kapoor himself takes us part of the way: in 1996 he said, “I believe very deeply that works of art, or let’s say things in the world, not just works of art, can be truly made. If they are truly made, in the sense of possessing themselves, then they are beautiful.” This, surely, is what we mean by “extended performance”. This is the public space made private: Kapoor rendered as food with the official imprimatur of the gallery. A brave, exciting new world for the artist who once announced (in a rather different context): ”
“A work will only have deep resonance if the kind of darkness that I can generate, let’s say a block of stone with a cavity in it can have a darkness, is resident in you already; that you know already. This is not a verbal connection, but a bodily one. That’s why sculpture occupies the same space as your body.”
It is a strange – typically Kapoorian – thought to reflect on as you walk out into Piccadilly. When you’re there, look up at the many three metre flags, branded Kapoor and covered in thick reds (what now, perhaps, we might call Kapoor Red – up there with Klein Blue and Malevich Black in the cultural palette), as they flutter in shrill response to the peppermint green Fortnum and Mason foodhalls over the way.
Anish Kapoor, at the Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 (020-7300 8000; http://www.royalacademy.org.uk), from Sept 26 to Dec 11
 http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/anish-kapoor/pingpongoffers/ (photographs of the Ping Pong Kapoor menu can be seen on the website).
 http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/anish-kapoor/liberty/liberty-cream-tea-package,84,MA.html. This is not, however, inspired by the exhibition: it is a further package with a commercial partner.
 Julian Stallbrass, ‘Art Incorporated’ (OUP, 2004)
 From an interview with ‘Sculpture’ in 1996.