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Dark Brother by Anish Kapoor (2005)  Foto © Amedeo Benestante.

MADRE Museo d’Art Contemporanea Donnaregina Napoli

Friday 2nd October 2015

While in Naples I visited the contemporary art gallery MADRE Museo d’Art Contemporanea Donnaregina Napoli. There was no exhibition catalogue available and having not checked online previously, I had no idea what works of art were on display. It was a real pleasure therefore, to see a whole range of site specific art installations. All the more rewarding because this is my area of interest in art practice. To be presented with works by artists such as Richard Serra, Rebecca Horn, Sol Le Witt and many more, this was an incredible find.

However, to my utter disbelief and immense joy as I was about to leave one installation room, I caught site of the corner of the artwork in the next room and quite literally the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I immediately realised this next piece was by Anish Kapoor. Not only that, but an artwork that was pertinent to my dissertation. As with James Turrell’s St Elmo’s Breath that I’d seen only two months earlier in his Lightspace exhibition at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, I was about to ‘experience’ at first hand Anish Kapoor’s Dark Brother.

Walking into the white walled gallery space, at first sight Dark Brother appears to be a black rectangle on the light grey floor and measuring approx 3 x 5 metres. Then there’s a sudden realisation. There are no signs or hints of reflections or marks on the surface of any kind. I started to feel rather uncomfortable because I wasn’t at all sure whether this was a black rectangle on the floor, or a hole in the floor. I then started to look for hints of highlights that might give clues to the sides or even corners of this rectangular box that must be in the floor, but there are none! This rectangular shape gave no hint other than being pure black and emanating not one ray of light. It’s not making sense because when I moved position slightly to another viewpoint nothing changes. It still appears an intense black.

Emotions now begin to turn from the initial feeling of immense joy to an intense fear! My heart rate begins to rise as all the information my brain is receiving is telling me I am looking into a ‘black hole’, an apparently very deep space with no signs of sides or bottom. This is a very strange and overwhelming feeling having walked into an art gallery in the city of Naples you stand two metres away with only a metre high glass barrier between you and what appears to be a bottomless pit. Nothingness! I begin to feel very uneasy and my heart rate rises still further! Logic dictates it is an optical illusion because here I am standing in a gallery in Naples and so there can be no ‘bottomless pit’. However, what my eyes are seeing and my brain is telling is that I’m stood two metres away from a ‘black hole’! There’s something of a conflict now between my perception and my rationality.

Moving on to next room having spent the last 20 minutes or so trying to make sense of what I was  experiencing, even witnessing, left me feeling a mixture of extreme fear, excitement, confusion and intrigue. All the other works of art in the exhibition seem to pale into insignificance, because they didn’t impart the extreme range of feelings and emotions as Kapoor’s Dark Brother. This whole experience was made all the more amazing because I wanted to be able to see, and ‘experience’ a Kapoor artwork that deals with perceived space as part of the research material for my dissertation. Having searched for potential current exhibitions of Kapoor’s work and had no success, I feel incredibly fortunate.

One thing is patently obvious though. Artworks such as Dark Brother have to be experienced and not just looked at in photographs. They cannot be appreciated in any other way other than experiencing them.