Earlier this month Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his wife Gene purchased and installed Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror outside the Cowboys’ stadium. It’s the 27th artwork the Joneses have bought for their football stadium. (Speaking of which, I like Dallas Museum of Art director Max Anderson’s take on such here.) So far as I can tell, it’s the first time that Sky Mirror has been on view in the United States since 2006, when the Public Art Fund provided it with its US debut in Rockefeller Center. [Image above: Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2001-2013, photo via Flickr user Vincent Huang.]
I haven’t seen the installation of Sky Mirror in Arlington, Texas, but judging from the pictures in this Dallas Morning News slideshow and from NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” the installation is nothing like the provocative placement the artwork received in New York.
Here’s a slightly edited version of what I wrote in 2006 (when I wrote it in two posts — way back then people weren’t particularly willing to read long mini-essays on the interwebs):
In many ways, Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror couldn’t be more perfect. It’s not Kapoor’s best work, but the combination of art object, the time, and its siting at Rockefeller Center makes for a crisp art historical rhyme. To understand why, let’s first go all the way back to 1915. [Image: Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2001-2006, via Flickr user freakgirl.]
That’s when John D. Rockefeller, Jr., influenced by his blue-blood chums the Widener family (whose Old Masters and European decorative arts fill the National Gallery), hired John Singer Sargent to paint his father’s portrait. The Rockefellers and Sargent got along better than anyone expected, and when Sargent suggested that the elder Rockefeller next sit for a bust by a sculptor named Paul Manship, Rockefeller assented.
Manship had a pedigree that both Rockefellers were likely to appreciate: He had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Students League and he learned to infuse his work with classical references after he won the coveted Prix de Rome. In between-the-wars America, Manship’s mixture of allegory, neo-classicism and softened modern lines was mighty popular. Manship’s work effectively tied America’s new wealth and broadened ambition, as demonstrated on an international scale by America’s involvement in World War I, with past empires. The two busts Manship made of Rockefeller were a great hit and a relationship between sculptor and patrons was forged.
A decade after meeting Manship, and with the Great Depression near its most depressed point, Junior would build Rockefeller Center. The project was, from beginning to end, a great challenge. Junior started the project just before the stock market crashed in 1929, and no one expected it to succeed. After all, who needed millions of new square feet of office space at a time of economic catastrophe?
But, obviously, Junior pushed forward. He even stuffed Rockefeller Center with art, including work by Isamu Noguchi, Margaret Bourke-White, and Lee Lawrie. As it turned out, the most famous work at Rockefeller Center was created by an artist with whom Junior had a prior relationship: Paul Manship.
Today, Manship’s Prometheus is one of the most famous sculptures in America. It presents Prometheus in the heavens, just after he has acquired fire but before he has brought it back to earth. He hovers above the signs of the zodiac, more floating with the gods than falling back to earth. The sculpture is a faithful, selective representation of the Prometheus myth: Prometheus created man out of clay figures that came to life when Athena breathed life into them. Later on, Prometheus nobly stole fire from the hearth of the gods and brought it down to man, only to be punished by Zeus, who sent an eagle peck at his liver for eternity.
Manship’s sculpture, installed near the base of Rock Center’s tallest building, is an allegorical glorification of Junior and the Rockefeller Center story. Rockefeller created a major urban development — jobs! — at a time of national crisis; he breathed fire into the city. And because of the aggressive way Rockefeller pursued tenants and other business dealings perceived to be monopolistic, he was excoriated by the press and the public. Manship, who had known the Rockefellers for many years by this point, knew how mixing the Prometheus myth with the Rockefeller story would appeal to his patrons. The result is a sculpture that stands in for the story of the Rockefellers, their development, and America, all joined by Manship’s aesthetic. Eighty years later, it still works.
Fast-forward to Sky Mirror, which is now installed up against Fifth Avenue, directly facing 30 Rockefeller Center. (Take a look at Flickr for a few hundred shots of Sky Mirror and its surroundings.) If you stand in front of the mirror, you’ll see Prometheus hovering above the Rock Center ice rink. Behind Prometheus is a plaza and the entrance to 30 Rockefeller Center. The two works are installed as if they’re in an art historical showdown. And they are.
Kapoor’s mirrored pieces, such as Chicago’s Cloud Gate, are a further abstraction of mirrored surfaces brought to contemporary art by Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Gerhard Richter and, especially Jeff Koons.
While artists in the 1960s used mirrors and reflection to raise questions about perception, Koons took a different tack: He used mirrored surfaces to squint at conspicuous consumption. Koons’ famed Rabbit (at right), made in 1986, when it was morning in America’s highest tax brackets, is a witty take on a materialistic culture. Rabbit points out that a consumer’s purchases typically glorify the purchaser, who can see himself in his new possession.
Sky Mirror, in its current location, takes Koons’ commentary on materialism and adapts it for an globalist era defined by increasing corporate power. Sky Mirror doesn’t reflect the sky, it reflects one of America’s most prominent corporate towers, the GE Building. In fact, as the photo above plainly shows, Sky Mirror is ‘pointed’ directly at 30 Rock. When Prometheus was made it glorified the builder/creator of Rockefeller Center with a common art historical trope of its day: allegory. By reflecting its host, Sky Mirror does the exact same thing, using the slick abstraction of ours.
Did Kapoor intend this reading? Who knows. Works of art often live in the world in ways their creator didn’t quite intend. (But Kapoor certainly consented to have the piece installed in Rock Center, where it is now.) When a previous, smaller version of Sky Mirror was installed at Nottingham Playhouse, it too was pointed at the client, in this case a theater.