The last Anish Kapoor exhibition we saw dominated the Royal Academy. The grounds – they modestly refer to gardens – at Houghton Hall are almost immeasurably larger. Yet to say the open air sculptures were almost lost is not to belittle them. It is impossible either to dominate that landscape by any scale of sculpture unless it be akin to Kapoor’s spiral at the Olympic Park, and even that depends on the proximity of lower buildings.
Inside the hall, once home to the first designated prime minister, Robert Walpole, there is room for small and not-so-small works. These are dishes polished to so high a sheen they reflect and distort their surroundings. They are coloured also, adding to the variety. There is also one large marble sculpture, the inspiration for which can be guessed. It has to be remembered that this interior was once graced by paintings now in the Hermitage, having been sold to Catherine the Great to alleviate debt (not Sir Robert’s however).
Interesting though the interior works are, and there are drawings in one wing, outdoor sculptures on a scale approaching the monumental are the real focus of the visit. As the exhibition ends on 1 November there is little time to see it, especially as tickets must be reserved in advance. Anyone who enjoys abstract and not-so-abstract sculpture should make the effort. For those who can’t go this month perhaps something may remain on permanent loan, as several works by other artists do. These include a Mother and Child by Henry Moore, several circles and other interventions by Richard Long, Houghton Hut by Rachel Whiteread and Skyspace: Seldom Seen by James Turrell.
Anish Kapoor commands attention, however. From the steps of the hall his Sky Mirror and Eight Eight draw the eye along a vista of grass flanked by pleached limes. Sky Mirror obviously has echoes in the interior mirrors but reflects the sky as they reflect the architectural detail. One is ever changing while the others only vary with the appearance of spectators in their shapes or other aspects of the room as a viewer moves around. Just below the steps are three monoliths in different stones, onyx, limestone and granite. The interaction between these (and of course visitors’ interaction with them) adds to the interest.
Secluded in the lime walks are Sophia and Liver, both in marble, the latter a clue to identifying the source of the work in the Stone Hall. Figuring of the marble is a special quality of Sophia, which perhaps indicates a metaphysical interpretation of its title.
For many people the journey to Houghton Hall will necessitate refreshment, and this is well provided, fortunately, in the Stables. Covid restrictions limit supplies to take-out but quality is by no means compromised. We had a very tasty lunch box of pulled pork and potato with a pear and walnut tart we were too full to eat until the next evening. The cider of Houghton Hall is highly recommended. The cost for two was just over £20 – very reasonable. Vegetarian and sandwich options are available.
Every care had been taken to look after visitors with limited mobility but wet grass will always present problems. There was easier access to the buildings, however. I must add that car parking was handled with great care: to avoid vehicles becoming bogged down we were directed to hard standing normally reserved for disabled people.