Anish Kapoor, Vauxhall bus station

I was on the bus yesterday – most of my anecdotes start this way, I won’t pretend it’s storytelling gold – and at Vauxhall bus station I saw a billboard advertising the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy.

As with most art advertising there was a colourful close-up of a part of one of the works and then a bit of text and some sponsor logos but it got me thinking: would anyone outside the artsphere be any the wiser after looking at it? (You can see a slightly different version of the ad on the RA’s exhibition microsite – link opens in new window)

Tall Tree and the Eye, Anish Kapoor - image courtesy raindog

Tall Tree and the Eye, Anish Kapoor - image courtesy raindog

Taking my boyfriend to be a representative sample of ‘the man on the street’ – he can recognise the Mona Lisa, knows that the Turner Prize exists, and thinks the best part of the Canalettos at the National Gallery is that they are near some comfy seats – I put the advert in front of him and asked what he thought it was for.

“I don’t know – if it’s at the Royal Academy it’s probably an art thing?” came the cautious response, “Although it might be a film or a talk?”

Hooray! I was right, it is impenetrable and obscure! All well and good when one is advertising an exhibition in one of the heavier-than-a-sack-of-lead art magazines to a very art savvy target audience but presumably not so helpful stranded on a patch of scrubland where the vast majority of people have their faces in commuter-strength coffee or are breathing gin all over a nightbus.

“What”, I asked, “would make it comprehensible?”

There was a pause during which I realised that I might need to explain who Anish Kapoor was.

Shooting into the Corner, Anish Kapoor - image courtesy Rain Rabbit

Shooting into the Corner, Anish Kapoor - image courtesy Rain Rabbit

“Anish Kapoor is a world-famous sculptor. He was born in India and moved to London to study art, going on to win the 1991 Turner Prize, amongst other things. His work is characterised mainly by bright colours and curved forms although recently his shapes have had mirror-like surfaces. I like to think of him as a bright and shiny Henry Moore.”

There was a longer pause then boyfriend ventured that for non art lovers the most comprehensible advert in the world was still unlikely to entice them to hand money over for an art exhibition. Perhaps even less so than an enigmatic advert where Anish Kapoor could be a cricketer giving a talk.

“But in this exhibition he fires a cannon of waxy-painty-vaseliney… stuff… at a wall!” And how would this happen on a billboard? I conceded the point and looked glum. Boyfriend hurriedly added that putting in the Turner Prize reference might help as the only reason he would go to see art would be to tick it off a list of cultural landmarks – the more acclaimed the art, the more one would feel the need to at least give it a cursory nod.

Given the regard in which a lot of non-art columnists and commenters hold the Turner Prize I pointed out that perhaps it was best omitted.

So there we have it, it turns out that the obscure, unhelpful, impenetrable and static art advert stranded in Vauxhall scrubland in between a trainline and a Tesco Metro is probably the most effective way to advertise Anish Kapoor’s messy, energetic and inventive exhibition to the world.