Tuesday, 23 October 2007



This post coincides with the elaborate installation by the artist now at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. The sculpture of Anish Kapoor is notable for the way it has merged Minimalist abstraction with an older concern for biomorphic imagery, with reliance upon fabrication and industrial process yet an attitude toward materials that often gives work a site-specific and ritualistic accent. Kapoor’s Anglo-Indian heritage perhaps disposes him toward some of this, and much commentary is quick to point to the link, but here his style is traced simply in terms of sculpture in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Kapoor’s work first gained recognition in the early 80s, along with a wave of British contemporaries such as Bill Woodrow, Tony Cragg and Richard Deacon, yet Kapoor’s work is distinct firstly for its biomorphic imagery, mixing botanical and biological shapes, often with a strong sexual element to protuberances and recesses. This Surrealist strain continued in particular in the work of Louise Bourgeois. Secondly, there is Kapoor’s use of vivid pigments in powder form at this time, the surplus in generous piles, anchoring the work to the floor and a precise location.

The pigments in effect disguise the surface of the materials (variously, polystyrene, cement, earth, acrylic and wood) and identify the shapes by colour and pigment attributes, a single physical location, so that coating and overspill become the sculpture, in more ways than one. The colours condition the perception of volume, even scale, and give the shapes a theatrical aspect – a role or play to surface and volume, that is usually described in terms of spirit or transcendence. The grounding of the work, literally on the floor, also has echoes in Bourgeois’ work in the late 60s and 70s, but the treatment of materials by pigment in this way actually paces a different strand to sculpture.

In the work of Conceptual artists like Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy from the times, objects and sample materials to a specific location are often arranged in Minimalist forms – circles, squares, piles and lines - either to be documented or removed to exhibition sites. What is sampled from a location – the materials collected – is by necessity given a form in presentation, yet what is sampled and what is sampler in this way, or what is presentation and representation, are not always clear cut. The form necessarily channels its content; the content absorbs some of its form. Like Kapoor’s pigments, we cannot know what such forms would do to other materials on other occasions, so that their true impact or the ‘true shape’ to a material remains conspicuously fugitive in such presentations, ultimately salutes spirit. In this sense Kapoor’s use of pigments owe as much to contemporary developments in sculpture as to Indian customs.

However, while such coatings remain an abiding concern for Kapoor, powdered pigment does not. By the same token while an abstracted, even divine sexuality to recesses, protuberances and uprights continues in his work, the more organic or biomorphic does not. The work becomes more abstract, sexuality is transformed into a planar and spatial interplay.

Later works steadily contrast holes and uprights with their material, surface and volume, as much as colour, so that holes smoothly assume circles, flatten into dishes, lengthen into tubes, take on a topological slipperiness only accentuated by highly polished surfaces, and more recently, mirrored surfaces. Mirrors of course, instantly draw upon their surroundings in perception, so that again work becomes both anchored to site, yet evasive, a surface difficult to catch as plane or volume, evanescent and immaculate. Thus works like Mother as A Mountain (1985) give way to examples such as Mountain (1989-91) or Mother As Void (1989-90) to When I am Pregnant (1992) to Red Circle (1996) to Turning The World Inside Out (1997) to Untitled (2003) to Untitled/Pregnant Square (2004) to S-Curve (2006). Or, for a more masculine accent, works develop from Untitled (1983) to Untitled (1987/8) to Ishis Light (2003) to Spire (2004) to Reverse Perverse (2006).

The gigantic Marsyas (2002) is surely the most extravagant demonstration of this shape shifting, exalted topology. Later works such as Untitled (2006) refine these concerns, faintly echo the sexual metaphor yet surrender more to fabrication and finish. This year’s installation in Munich promises a return to more tactile and frankly, messy surfaces, while Kapoor now embarks upon a kinetic dimension to his work. It is a mark of both the fundamental nature of his interests and his invention, that his themes easily assimilate motion, even amongst the period architecture and décor of the Haus der Kunst.

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