Window to the Self: Anish Kapoor’s sculpture Memory at the Guggenheim Museum in New York
Anish Kapoor’s sculpture "Memory" at the Deutsche Guggenheim caused a furor in late 2008. Now, the commissioned work for the Berlin exhibition hall is being shown in New York in the context of the program celebrating the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s 50th anniversary. At the same time, "Memory" marks the inception of the "Deutsche Bank Series at the Guggenheim," in which the museum presents projects that had their premiere at the Deutsche Guggenheim.
Anish Kapoor, Svayambh, 2007, installation view Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Foto: Cécile Clos, Nantes
Anish Kapoor explains that he likes to build sculptures that are larger than the rooms containing them. Memory (2008), his object made from 154 Cor-Ten steel elements, almost seems to burst the exhibition space at the New York Guggenheim. Yet despite its size, the work appears amazingly "immaterial." It’s as though the rust-colored giant were immune to gravity, making contact in a subtle way with the spatial boundaries of wall, floor, and ceiling. The Guggenheim’s first collaboration with Kapoor was curated by Sandhini Poddar, Assistant Curator of Asian Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Like all of Kapoor’s works, Memory triggers a wide variety of associations, such as egg, UFO, submarine—the oval suggests a plethora of images, including a bomb or even a humdrum cauldron. In their handcrafted precision, the visible seams of the welded steel plates recall a bygone era, the great age of 19th-century industrialization. The sculpture of the Turner prizewinner prompts the viewer to become active. The work cannot be seen in its entirety from a single perspective—its dimensions are far too overwhelming. This necessitates approaching Memory from various different points in space. The artist describes this process as a "diagram that can never be completed."
At the New York Guggenheim Museum, visitors take a staircase to a second gallery, where a rectangular opening in the wall provides a view into Memory’s interior—a pitch-black space whose borders cannot be perceived, a cave that exerts an incredible pull. If you take a step back, the opening appears two-dimensional, like a monochromatic painting. The Renaissance theoretician Leon Battista Alberti called the frame of a painting a "window to the world." Kapoor’s work shifts this perspective: his sculpture is more of a window to the "self" that also allows the viewer to look into his or her own interior and subconscious.
"Darkness is a very interesting condition," explains Kapoor in a conversation with the curator Marcello Dantas. "Light is cultured and educated, while darkness is uncultured and uneducated and deeply within in our unspoken story. From Dante to Freud to the Devil, we live, if you like, an internal darkness. I’ve made works over the years that deal with that internal darkness. The whole of western philosophy is based on the idea that Plato sat in the cave, metaphorically, looked up to the light, and said ‘let there be progress’: Freud looked at the back of the cave, and maybe we’re still looking at the back of the cave."
Kapoor, to whom the London Royal Academy is currently dedicating its first major one-person exhibition of a living artist, declines giving any unequivocal explanations of his work. To his mind, art is not an expression of personal experience. As opposed to expressive gesture, he is far more concerned with "content that is on the face of it abstract, but at a deeper level symbolic," as Kapoor explained in an interview with BBC journalist John Tusa. "And that content is necessarily philosophical and religious. I think it’s attempting to dig away—without wanting to sound too pompous—at the great mystery of being. And that, while it has a route through my psychobiography, isn’t based in it.”
Kapoor’s enigmatic and aesthetic works have made him a global art star. Indeed, the work of the sculptor, who was born in 1954 in Mumbai, unites eastern and western influences. He refuses to be allocated to any one national artistic canon. Kapoor, who has been living in London since 1972, finds questions concerning his Indian roots to be “boring.” Accordingly, he refused to take part in the exhibition The Other Story (1989), in which the Hayward Gallery introduced works by Asian and black artists in Great Britain since the Second World War. A son of a Hindu father and a Jewish mother whose parents had fled to India from Iraq due to religiously motivated persecution, nationality is a criterion that has never interested him. "I’m used to being a foreigner. It is a strange thing, I am used to the idea of not being included in that way. I quite like it, of course. It has its advantages."
In his work, Kapoor explores fundamental questions of human existence as well as the tense relationship between emptiness and presence, the material and the immaterial. His sculptures defy all narrative interpretation. Instead, his monumental installations offer the viewer intense emotional and physical experience. For Marsyas, for instance, he stretched a blood-red membrane through the turbine hall of the London Tate Modern in 2002. The dimensions of the 120-meter-long sculpture made it impossible to apprehend it in its entirety. Like Memory, the work had to be walked around and the multiple perspectives woven together to form a complete picture. The fact that Kapoor’s works are also convincing on a smaller scale was evident in the Deutsche Bank-sponsored show Place / No Place from 2008. The exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) brought together models of Kapoor’s works from the past twenty years—a retrospective in miniature format.
Turning the World Upside Down III is the title of Kapoor’s spherical stainless steel sculpture that has been installed in the lobby of the London headquarters of Deutsche Bank since 1999. The reflections on the inside of the hollow sphere literally turn the world upside-down, while the sculpture’s convex surfaces confront us with a space that seems to carry on indefinitely. Like his 110-ton work Cloud Gate (1999-2006) for Millennium Park in Chicago, Turning the World Upside Down functions independently of the viewer’s cultural background. As a sculptor, it seems, Kapoor has created a visual language that appeals to the collective unconscious—and that can be universally understood. Achim Drucks
The Deutsche Bank Series at the Guggenheim Anish Kapoor - Memory Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, USA October 21, 2009 – March 28, 2010