KAPOOR's UNIQUE STYLE and Indian heritage have combined to make him one of the most engaging and distinctive artists on the international scene and this dual-centred show is the first ever to feature his work in the country of his birth. The exhibition is organised over two sites: New Delhi and Mumbai, and is the largest and most ambitious exhibition project ever to be developed of Kapoor’s work. It features a selection of sculptures and installations which span the breadth of the artist’s career, from his early pigment-based – sculptures of the 1980s right through to his most recent wax installations.
At the NGMA in New Delhi, Kapoor’s show is also the first major exhibition to be held in the gallery’s newly constructed Exhibition Hall. The space houses some of his smaller, seminal pigment pieces from the 1980s, which reference piles of powdered pigment found in Indian markets. As an art student, Anish Kapoor made assemblages, did performances and drew on the floor with chalk. In all this, there was a fascination with the two-dimensional arts – with painting, but also with tapestries, relief carving, calligraphy and Persian carpets. In 1979, his studies complete, Kapoor made a three-week trip back to India, where piles of raw pigment in markets, by roadside shines and doors to temples made a big impression on the artist. Back in his London studio, Kapoor began a series of drawings where red shapes were spangled across paper, then he used pure pigment to turn the motifs into three-dimensional forms. These shapes are then covered with a generous dusting of pigment, which spills onto the floor like a halo, radiating a powerful sense of that which is most forbidden in museums and galleries: touch.
The intimacy of the colour red seeems to blur the lines between abstraction and narrative. The shapes are rich in association (perhaps seed pod, breast, mosque dome or ziggurat), but they are not descriptive: Kapoor is pointing towards bigger ideas. It is as if the motifs in a Persian carpet have been brought to life, and emerge from the floor, like clues to something beyond. Spaced proportionally from each other, there is room for the eye to wander between the separate elements, and a necessity to walk around them. There is an emphasis on the spaces ‘in-between’.
Some of his reflective works of art are on display in the Delhi exhibition. Illusion is central to Kapoor’s work, as can be seen in Iris from 1998. Just as the painted void can make stone seem to disappear, Kapoor’s mirrored objects use reflections to camouflage themselves in their environment and appear like holes in space. The supporting structure of Iris is concealed, so the convex mirror emerges effortlessly from the wall, like an eye as it appears in a face and indicates a continuation beyond the wall into which it is set. New for Delhi is Sky Mirror (2010) another reflective piece. Although huge and fixed, Sky Mirror appears ephemeral and dynamic due to the ever-changing reflections across its surface. The concave side of the mirror is facing up, and like an inverted satellite dish, receives images of the sky and beams them back heavenwards. At the same time, to us ‘earthlings’, the reflections appear upside-down. Modern physics teaches that space is full of holes, where space, time and gravity are inconceivably distorted. Sky Mirror serves as an earth-bound black hole. It disrupts our perception of gravity: things go up, but they don’t come down.
The new Untitled work loops back to the early pigment works. A round fibreglass bowl is fixed low on the wall. From a side angle, shadow tricks the eye into imagining a convex form, whereas approached straight-on, the bowl envelops the viewer’s field of vision. The cavity is filled with yellow pigment, sprayed all over for a perfectly even expanse in which to lose sense of the bowl’s proportions as an object. The swathe of colour acts as something of a magic circle, or mandala, where focus is found through looking. Yellow, a primary colour, cannot be defined in terms of a mixture of other pigments – it is insistently itself.
Where as Iris and S-Curve (another reflective work) question how we perceive exterior space, Kapoor now asks us to consider insides in another work: Past, Present Future (2006). If you close your eyes against the sun, you will see an intense red glow through your eyelids. From an eye-ball to the globe, in Past, Present, Future Kapoor returns to the colour red – the colour of flesh and blood, of India and indeed the earth. After years of making highly finished sculptures, this vast, messy piece is a bold gesture, using a gory mixture of wax, paint, petroleum jelly and thinners. Its form is created by its own movement: a sphere is shaped by an arc that slowly swings 180-degrees. Just as the early pigment pieces sprouted up from the floor, so too this grows within the body of the building, and like the powder on the floor, Past, Present, Future leaves traces of waxy stuff on the arc and adjacent walls. Although the working process seems to be on show, illusion is still at play. As with Iris, it seems that only a portion of the globe is visible, and it may only appear to be solid red all the way through. Such shapeshifting recalls Hindu mythology, where Gods can get what they want by using magical powers to change their identity.
In Mumbai, another work that involves red wax can be seen at the Mehboob film studios. It is the popular Shooting Into the Corner (2008-9), which was one of the favourite parts of Kapoor’s exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 2009. The installation comprises an air-powered cannon firing blood-red wax pellets at a wall at regular intervals, gradually building up a sculpture that grows and changes over the course of the exhibition. There is also a new wax piece, entitled Stack. Kapoor is renowned for his immaculate style, whereby the production processes are kept behind the scenes. He prefers for the artist’s hand in the work to remain invisible, and in Shooting into the Corner that logic is extended. In terms of scale and ambition, it exceeds its cousin, Past, Present, Future as the creation of the artwork is fully exposed – the process is part of the piece: an operator mans that cannon that shoots the pellets that attempts to describe the space in-between with an urgent red line.
National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Jaipur House, India Gate, New Delhi 110003. Hours: Tues-Thur 10-5; Fri 10-8; Sat-Sun 10-5. Closed Monday and National holidays. Mehboob Studios. Until 27 February. Mehboob Studios, 100 Hill Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400050. Open daily 9-9. Closed National holidays. Until 16 January. Booking required for Mumbai (www.anishkapoorindia.com, tel +91 22 40203660/-61/-62/-63).