Anish Kapoor Plays Artful Mind Games

by Shirley Moskow

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If you’re going to visit only one museum this summer, make it the Institute of Contemporary Art, and make it soon. The Anish Kapoor exhibition closes September 7. “Past, Present, and Future” is the first museum survey in the United States of the London-based artist’s sculpture in more than 15 years, and many of the works are on view here for the first time.

Fourteen of Kapoor’s abstract pieces made since 1980 are installed in the ICA’s large gallery, creating a stunning contemporary environment that challenges perception. The viewer enters a different world with different rules. Some pieces look flat, but are actually three dimensional. Alternatively, some that appear multi-dimensional are flat. Classic shapes – primarily circles and rectangles -- are deceptively complex, constructed in a variety of synthetic and natural materials. He has developed newly applied forms of aluminum, pigment, enamel, resin, polymer, and PVC to give unique effects to classic and organic forms. Nothing is quite as it seems.

“Past, Present, and Future,” the monumental wax and red oil-based paint sculpture that gives the exhibition its name, is half a dome-like form. It could as easily suggest a space station as an Eskimo’s igloo. The form is sleek, the execution primitive.

Kapoor manipulates form and perception of space explains Curator Nicholas Baume.
As a result, the viewer becomes involved and an active participant in the art. This is exactly what the sculptor intends. When he was in Boston recently to install the exhibition, he said that he doesn’t consider a work complete until someone is standing in front and looking at it. He wants viewers to be “intimately involved.”

“I’m interested in the way this stuff, which is very physical, has another reality,” Kapoor says. It’s not only the physicality of the art, however, but his choice of color that can be disorientating. When it’s a white work on a white wall like “Pregnanacy,” the viewer may find it difficult to distinguish the art from the architecture. By contrast, works in his “1000 Names” series achieve their effect with optical color vibrations like blue/purple.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a short documentary film, Anish Kapoor’s Poetic Laboratory, is continuously screened in an adjacent room. As he works in his studio, the artist, who is a “disciplined meditator,” discusses the wide-ranging and diverse sources of inspiration for his conceptual art, including the Kabbala, the book of Jewish mysticism.

Kapoor was born in 1954 in a suburb of Bombay, India, to an Iraqi-Jewish mother and a secular Hindu father. He had a Jewish upbringing and, after the Six Day War went to Israel, where he lived for a while. But he felt as much an outsider there as he had as the only non-Hindu at school in India. He left to travel around Europe, eventually settling in London where he studied art.

Now one of the leading sculptors in the world, he has received many prestigious awards, including The Turner Prize. The San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art are among the international museums that have mounted solo shows of his work. "Cloud Gate," a 110-ton, elliptical, mirror-faced sculpture, is the centerpiece of Chicago's Millennium Park. And, last month, the British press announced that Kapoor has been commissioned to create the world’s largest outdoor sculpture in England.

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