A profusion of mirrors.

I never expected to mention Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror in three consecutive posts – but then, I have only just discovered that a third version of the sculpture was unveiled today, this time on Fifth Avenue in New York.

For once in our lives, we humble Nottingham folk are way, way ahead of you NYC hipsters. We’ve had a Sky Mirror in Nottingham since April 2001 – and what’s more, ours was the original, so yah boo sucks.

I have to say that this sudden mushrooming of mirrors has caught me off-guard, as I had always had the original version down as something of a misfire. For starters, the project ended up running many months overdue, and coming in some way over its original estimated budget. As I recall, there had been various problems with the manufacturing of the sculpture, as tiny but significant imperfections demanded correction in a variety of far-flung locations. (“It’s gone to Finland for extra polishing” was one of the excuses that sticks in my mind.)

When the Mirror finally arrived, a few days ahead of its official unveiling, I remember my initial awe being tempered by a certain measure of disappointment. As as a great admirer of Kapoor’s work, this was a bitter pill to swallow – but the work lacked the dramatic presence of some of his other major pieces, and I particularly disliked the slight but inescapable distortions in the reflections on either side of the dish. I had expected these reflections to be perfectly smooth, not broken up by the faint concentric circles that could be made out on the surface. Furthermore, I didn’t feel that the images produced in the reflections were of any great note: an inverted church spire on the concave side, and an empty paved area on the convex side. Was this really Nottingham’s answer to Antony Gormley’s Angel Of The North: an iconic must-see, that would bring tourism to the region? Well, hardly.


My suspicions were amplified when Kapoor failed to show at the opening ceremony, his place being taken by that well-known patron of the arts, the ex-boxer and panto regular Frank Bruno. Nevertheless, Bruno worked the crowd effectively on the afternoon itself. He had only accepted the gig on condition that no big speech was to be expected of him; rather, he would “mingle” with the invited dignatories, whose ranks were somehow swollen to include K and myself.

Thus it was that K came to feel a tap on his shoulder from behind. Pausing in mid-sentence, he looked behind, and some distance upwards, to see Bruno smiling back down at him.

“I just wanted to say, that’s a great suit you’re wearing. Makes you look very regal, hur hur hur!”

Well, one takes one’s compliments where one finds them.

Apart from the cost involved – £900,000 of public money, prompting all sorts of local outrage (“What’s that in school books and hospital beds?”) – the Mirror was also touched by controversy of a different kind. As the project’s own consultant astronomer himself warned:

“The mirror will focus light, just as does a magnifying glass, down to a particular point that moves as the sun moves.”

“You need to stop the sun from falling on it in the first place. If you don’t there’s a potential danger. Any pigeons which fly through the beam could be instantly barbecued.”

The press duly had a field day, with all sorts of nightmare visions of dead, roasted pigeons tumbling from the sky and landing on the heads of the public.

Alas for the doom-mongers, no pigeon to date has been so much as singed. Indeed, the whole story was brilliantly squashed on the opening day itself, as the chairman of the Nottingham Playhouse Trust solemnly conducted his own “experiment” in front of the assembled press. Brandishing a long wooden pole, with a bird cage mounted on the end of it and a toy canary perched inside, he held it up in front of the mirror. As the canary failed to topple, so the Sky Mirror was pronounced officially safe.

I’m keen to know what New Yorkers will make of their own version of the Mirror. If the initial photos (here, here and here) are anything to go by, then it looks as if their reflections will be rather more dramatic than the ones which I see almost every weekday, on the way to buy my lunchtime sandwiches. And of course, the New York sky is just that little bit higher than our Nottingham sky, what with all those tall buildings and all – so the impact of seeing it reflected back at ground level will be all the more dramatic. (Here in Nottingham, we barely have to tilt our heads to cop a load of cumulo-nimbus, any time we want.)

We’ll soon be regaining our unique status, though. The New York mirror is only on view until October 26th, and the Chatsworth House mini-mirror (of which more below, two posts down) will disappear a day later. But is this to be the start of a whole spate of intinerant mirrors, springing up in prominent locations all around the place, and fatally diluting our brand in the process?

Ach, who cares. You lot can keep your second generation, after-the-fact knock-offs. Here in Nottingham, we prefer to originate, not imitate.

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