Distorting mirrors

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Sep 22 2013

Tags: ,

Category: Australia, Oceania

1 Comment

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I remember with delight the fun-fair that once a year pitched its tents in the small Dutch town in which I grew up. One of the attractions sometimes was a tent full of concave and convex mirrors in different sizes and combinations that showed the strangest, distorted reflections when one stood in front of them. In Dutch we call these distorting mirrors “lachspiegels”: mirrors that make you laugh. And that’s indeed what they did to us.

This memory came back to me in Sydney early 2013, when I visited an exhibition of works by Anish Kapoor at the Museum of Contemporary Art. A considerable number of the exposed sculptures were distorting mirrors in different forms and sizes, made of perfectly polished stainless steel. Outside, in front of the museum, his famous Sky Mirror (in the large version of 2006) was erected. Kapoor’s stainless steel objects that reflect the environment with all kinds of distortions are a feast for the eye of every spectator-photographer. I think that is the main reason for the great popularity of his work.

Untitled 2012, stainless steel, Anish Kapoor

Untitled 2012, stainless steel, by Anish Kapoor

One walks past the mirrors, or around them in case they are free standing, and sees the reflected environment, oneself included, change from every new position. It’s intriguing. The reflecting object itself becomes, as a result, almost invisible. Then one moves on to the next reflecting object and the same experience repeats itself, in a slightly different way, but not substantially different. Once or twice is nice, or interesting, but after three times, five times, ten times, the fun is over.

Then the defect becomes manifest of repetition without adding something, without changing to a sufficiently new perspective, without showing signs of inner struggle or development of the artist. Then the art risks falling into the trap of becoming a trick, of – indeed – becoming a fairground attraction. And for the mirror works of Kapoor, that basically only exist by the grace of the reflected environment, this is all the more deadly. The concave and other mirrors become hollow objects, but now in the sense of meaningless.

Next week I will go a bit deeper into the main characteristic of Kapoor’s work.

Photo of the week: S-Curve 2006, stainless steel, by Anish Kapoor. Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art, 2013

One comment on “Distorting mirrors”

  1. Dear Louk, always thought provoking, this piece reminds me of your post about reflections and the comparison of two images taken on water.


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