Texts on Anish Kapoor
Review of three academic texts on Anish Kapoor for the Sculpture Journal in 2008. Gill Hedley is a writer, an independent curator and a consultant on contemporary visual arts. Review of Critical Texts on Anish Kapoor academic text
Svayambh is a work of 2007 by Anish Kapoor and also the starting point for a book by Rainer Crone and Alexandra von Stosch, an elegant and compact survey of Kapoor's work from 1979 to 2007, published after the exhibition of the same name at the Haus der Kunst, Munich.
Svayambh, (in Sanskrit, self-creation or that which is shaped by its own energy) was first shown at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Nantes in 2007 and will be the centrepiece of a retrospective of Kapoor's work to be held at the Royal Academy, London, 19 Sept - 13 Dec 2009.
Nicholas Baume's Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future was published on the occasion of an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston in 2008, and takes the subject beyond the show to a discussion of Kapoor's work, again from 1979 to 2007. It contains an exhibition checklist so functions as a catalogue as well as a broader guide to Kapoor's work. 1979 was the year in which Kapoor, a year out of art school, made a revelatory trip to India, the country of his birth.
Crone and von Stosch's book coincides with the Munich show but is not its catalogue. The only way to reconstruct the idea of the exhibition is through the Haus der Kunst installation photo credits in the List of Works.
Neither book correctly captions Untitled, 1983, which is in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (not the Contemporary Art Society, which donated the work).
Baume's book has one delightful detail of style and content which is the inclusion of replica leaves from Kapoor's notebooks. Small, matte pages are interleaved throughout bringing the artist's hand and words to the fore. Unfortunately, this design detail also serves to emphasise the tight binding which means that they are tipped in too closely to be read with ease. This error, either of binding or design, means that the photographs also lose all their edges down one side and have very wide opposite margins that emphasise the loss of image. The tipped in notebook pages do have an interesting way of disrupting the book throughout, sitting between each pair of title pages and chapter headings with a satisfying insistence. However, they seem to have an entirely different design value to the way in which the words of the title pages are split, bold font opposite fine, as do the mirrored endpapers which pay an odd and ineffectual sort of homage to aspects of Kapoor's work.
Although a small book, it contains two substantial essays by Nicholas Baume
and Partha Mitter, an interview with Kapoor by Baume and a
Mary Jane Jacob.
Baume's essay takes its name, Floating in a Most Peculiar Way, from
David Bowie's 1968 song Space Oddity which would have been a less
tactful title. The essay takes us through Kapoor's late 1970s pigment
pieces to the polished steel virtuosities of this century from
Cloud Gate to C-Curve. Mitter discusses Kapoor's art and its
relationship with Indian thought, as well
his explicit engagement with
history and cultural memory. In particular, he looks at the dominance in
his work of earthy red and its links with vermilion derived from cinnabar,
crucial in Hindu religion. The discussion culminates in a focus upon
Svayambh, probably the first emotionally disturbing work that Kapoor has
produced. It hints at emetics, blood letting, carnage and gore but its title
alludes to Shiva,
the self-creating god who sprang with elemental force
from his own phallus.
Mary Jane Jacobs concentrates on the extraordinary work Cloud Gate,
2004, commissioned for Chicago's Millennium Park and one of the most
successful works sculptures in a public space of which I am aware. Like
Kapoor, I loathe term, the idea behind and most of the manifestations
public art. Cloud Gate is a perfect example of this
imperfect notion: it has a scale and technical bravura that makes the viewer
catch their breath. The sheer shininess and sensual curviness brings a
balance of joie de vivre and profundity which is a rare achievement. It is
particularly unfortunate that none of the photographs of the piece in the
present book sits well on the page. Each photo is good; none is sited to do
the sculpture or the text any justice.
Crone and von Stosch plunge us straight into a sequence of thirteen pages of installation views of Svayambh crashing and thundering its reddened way through the doorways of the galleries in the Haus der Kunst. It is a visceral and powerful introduction to a single essay, which appears to be by Rainer Crone alone. Text images are well placed throughout and then the book opens out into a superb and substantial selection of photographs. In almost every case, each work is identified not only by its installation venue in the List of Works, but also, vitally, a credit is given for each photographer. This is a resource sadly lacking in Baume's book.
Crone's essay is a
discursive triangle between the works of C.D.
Friedrich, Barnett Newman, and Anish Kapoor. Crone discusses colour and
light, romanticism and the sublime, landscape and abstraction and then
focuses on a small group of major works. Iris, 1998, is a
distillation of Kapoor's series of reflected objects, an example to be
installed on the floor or wall. The dialectics of reflection and perception,
nature and site, are illustrated by Cloud Gate then examined again in
Untitled, 2003 (a mirrored sphere installed in the Johanniterkirche,
Svayambh is the penultimate work to be discussed but Crone uses Ghost, 1997, as his culmination and also a reprise. It allows the author to place Kapoor in a long classical tradition and compare Ghost's monochrome limestone with Friedrich's romantic skies and, by the presence of a cavity within a block, to Newman's zip-paintings.
It is a subtle and intelligent note on which to end the text and lead us
into the images that start with the pigment works of the 1970s and end with
States of Limbo, 2007, installed at the Haus der Kunst. But the
for this is both how it feels and reads is not
chronological. After the pigment pieces, we travel into voids and dimples
then, via the pivotal Ghost, we are turned back towards reflections,
architectural constructions, such as Taratantara and Marsyas,
and end with a flourish of installation views from the Haus der Kunst
Crone describes Ghost's colour (dark grey) as a reminder
taken from the modern architectural environment and the RIBA's exhibition shows how
red, white, steely silver challenge that built environment.
Books are no substitute for the physical and vital presence of sculpture but this exhibition particularly failed to deliver any sense of scale, material or texture and showed none of Kapoor's skill in disorientating his viewers with elements of depth and reflection. No sense of the sublime can really be given through architectural models but sadly no effective use was made of photographs, either, unlike Crone and von Stosch's book. The display lacked any sense of space or drama and one wishes that a sculptor could have been directly involved in the installation. It needed someone with a better sense of how to show the ways in which Kapoor's forms (ovoids, fissures, the body's canals and so on) have plunged, reared and curved throughout the spaces with which he has engaged.
The exhibition was solely concerned with the subject of Anish Kapoor in architecture, mixing slick and cool architectural models with maquettes and models from the artist's own hand and studio (I am guessing here: no information differentiated one from another). It was a delight to see the rough and ready models, most of all that for Towards Marsyas, where cardboard, pairs of tights and masking tape made us feel that we really were seeing the first, flickering manifestations of monumental works.
The leaflet text makes very curious use of tenses and moods: it was
impossible to learn which works have been realised, which are in production
and which had perhaps been in competition and rejected. Origin du Monde
is in the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa; Taratantara
was a temporary commission for Baltic in Gateshead that was then seen in the
Piazza Plebicito, Naples. But what became of Project for Munich? Or
Scheme for the South Bank Centre whose
related development was to
have been built in to the hollow or Pavilion for Salvation Army, London?
The latter two were not built, sadly, but a casual visitor would
The Naples Subway Station is now on site but anyone who follows the credit line for Temenos and makes a pilgrimage to Middlehaven, Middlesbrough, will be disappointed as the work, announced in July 2008, is still only at the planning application stage. It will be the first of Kapoor's five Tees Valley Giants which will bestride just south of the landscape watched over by Antony Gormley's Angel of the North.