LONDON • Artist Anish Kapoor has revealed that a project in which the world's longest slide will be built around his Olympic Park sculpture was "foisted" upon him by Mr Boris Johnson, mayor of London, to make the artwork more profitable.
From June, Kapoor's 114m-high structure - erected in 2012 on the Stratford Olympics site - will have a 178m tunnel slide wrapped around it, designed by renowned experimental artist Carsten Holler.
The public will be able to slide down the corkscrew tunnel, the longest in the world, which will twist and turn 12 times before ending with a 50m straight run to the ground.
But Kapoor, a Turner prize winner, said he had approached fellow artist Holler to design the slide only after Mr Johnson stipulated that the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower needed to become more of an attraction "in order to raise revenue".
The British-Indian artist said he had initially been very resistant to the mayor's idea, as "it felt to me as if it was turning the whole thing in the wrong direction".
He said: "It was not always my thinking. The mayor foisted this on the project and there was a moment when I had to make a decision - do I go to battle with the mayor or is there a more elegant or astute way through this?
"I knew of Carsten's work, so I thought, well, who better than a fellow artist to join up with and make this a positive story rather than a negative... luckily, and thankfully, Carsten was open to it, so we found a way round this."
His controversial red sculpture, which was dubbed "Boris' folly" when designs were first revealed, was found to be losing £10,000 a week in 2014. It was originally forecast to bring in annual revenues of £1.2 million from ticket sales of £12 to get to the top, but visitor numbers were only 200,000 - 150,000 short of predictions.
The sculpture itself cost £19 million, £16 million of which was paid for by the sponsor, steel company ArcelorMittal, and £3 million by the government.
But Kapoor said the success of his artwork could not be measured purely in "pounds and pence" and said he had a problem with the sculpture being viewed only as a commercial attraction.
"It may be theoretically losing money, but the fact that it has more than 200,000 visitors, I think that's a considerable gain," he said.
"One makes artworks for other reasons than profit. I understand this is run as a so-called attraction, which I have problems with, personally…
"I want it to be slightly more highbrow than that, without wanting to be pompous about it. There's a difference between a fairground ride and art."
This will be the third time Holler's slides have been installed for public enjoyment in London. In 2006, he installed a series of metal slides in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall and brought them back last year for his exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.
The slide around Kapoor's tower is 76m high and includes a tight corkscrew section named bettfeder, the German word for bedspring. It is a stainless steel tube, but windows are dotted along the slide for people to look out as they shoot down at speeds of up to 24kmh.
Holler said he wanted people to embrace "the amusement side of it".
The Belgian said: "A child might be here purely for the slide, while the serious art lover might see this in purely formalistic terms. I personally like the confusion, that you don't know what it is, but it still creates a very unique experience."
The slide will officially open to the public on June 24 and will cost £5 (S$9.83), on top of the £12 to get to the top of the tower, although Kapoor said he "wished it was cheaper frankly".
"We are hoping Boris will be the first one down," the artist added, "and that this will still be Europe when he gets to the bottom."