A Tale of Two Cities: Anish Kapoor in Boston and New York. (Part 2: New York)

For Part 1, click here

 Anish Kapoor at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York City

In New York City, Anish Kapoor had two concurrent shows at Barbara Gladstone. Reflection, above, predominated in an almost achromatic space at the 24th Street gallery (the show remains up through August 15); red, below, at the new 21st Street location


I first saw Anish Kapoor’s work in 1990 at the Venice Biennale. He was representing Britain, and his work filled that country’s “pavilion,”  a small building that consists of gallery rooms. (Each represented country has a building of its own design that remains permanently on the ground of the Giardini, the gardens, where the Biennale is set.)  There were a number of human-size sculptures, abstract forms all. Looking at my photographs from the exhibition reminds me that there was a room of carved stone blocks, about three feet in any direction, with voids of various sizes in their centers, so that as you peered in, you didn’t know just how deep or shallow the negative space was. There was a disc the diameter of an armspan covered in midnight blue pigment; you couldn’t tell if it was concave or convex and you didn’t want to get too close because of the powdered pigment on its surface.  There were piles of that same midnight blue pigment, and I remember thinking, “Yves Klein at a spice market.” 

I’d never heard of this artist, but I responded to the simplicity and materiality of his work. Since then I’ve encountered his work, as I’m sure you have, with increasing frequency. The surfaces are always interesting; and more than most dimensional work, his forms challenge your spatial perceptions of dimension and direction.

These concerns continue in two recent exhibitions at the Barbara Gladstone Galleries in New York City. Red predominated in Gladstone’s  24th Street “flagship” space  (the show is now closed);  reflection in the 21st Street space, where the show remains on view until August 15.


Vertigo, 2008, 85 3/4 x 189 x 40 inches.  The horizontal curve of mirror-polished stainless steel is compelling not only in its sleek form but in its distortion of the space and objects around it–big small, right side up, upside down. The only color in the gallery comes from the clothing of  the visitors and the Exit sign


In the 21st Street show, reflection deepens and alters the forms. There are four large, reflective stainless steel forms: a spindly cone, a tall rectangular block, a “cooling tower,” and a long horizontal curve that’s concave on the inside, convex on the outside.  Your  first impression is of the way they are placed within the space:  the rectangular block is aligned with the spindle and tower to form a reverse arc in conversation with the curved form on the other side of the room.  You are thus enclosed within the space of these four forms. It is a neat trick of placement. Their mirror-like surfaces alter your perception because you see not only the their form and the way they hold their part of the room, but the other sculptures that are reflected in them. Those reflections are distorted by the concave and convex surfaces, and they change as your position changes in relation to them. I visited this exhibition several times; the gallery was never crowded, but the degree of engagement was intense.

The spindle (”Spire”), the block (”Door”), and the “cooling tower  (”Pole”), are arranged in a sort of arc opposite the curved form. You are not only surrounded by the forms, you are distorted. That Giacometti-esque figure reflected in the tower is moi.


It is particularly enjoyable to see jaded New Yorkers engaging with the work in such a physical way. Viewers move up close and then back up, watching their reflection change in the process, and they peek and peer into orifices.  And, yes, these are New Yorkers, not tourists; they’re all wearing black (unless they’re from Brooklyn, in which case they’re dressed in anti-Manhattan garb, no black, which is to say they look like tourists.) And of course there are tourists, too.

I noticed one scuff mark toward the base of one work. Given the way visitors are allowed to navigate freely around the work, I was surprised there weren’t more. I asked  young man behind the desk if there had been any scrapes or scratches. “We have this chalky powder we rub on the surface and buff it a little bit,” he replied.  Ah, polishing clay. Jewelry makers use it to get their metal surfaces up to a high shine. So even big sculptors and galleries depend on little tricks.


At the “red” show in the gallery’s 24th Street location, how you approached the work made a huge difference in what you saw.  Above and below, two views of Blood Stick, 2008, resin, 52.76 x 55.12 x 401.57 inches


The “red” show at the 24th Street location, now down, had more of a narrative about the body, given the predominant color of the various forms. Blood Stick, the largest and most dramatic, is an accurate title. Creepy and compelling in equal measure, it  beckoned and repelled. A fellow gallerygoer likened it to a club. I thought of a used tampon—life coming and going.  

The “cooling tower,” a form that also appeared in the 21st Street Gallery, is here split to reveal a blood-red interior.  The opening is large enough to permit entry. What was pure form on 21st Street now has womb-like associations. Do you dare enter?    A bulbous form hangs on the wall, weightier at the bottom. Called Drip,  it suggests an enormous drop of blood ready to yield to gravity.

Here for Alba, 2008, Fiberglass and paint, 110.38 x 109.06 x 118.11 inches. Below, a view into the center reflects the space outside



Drip, 2008, resin and paint, 106 x 76 x 59 inches

In a video about his work, Kapoor describes his process: “I’m going in a direction I’m interested in. But what I’m doing precisely, I do not know.”  That’s as good a definition of the creative process as I’ve heard.

In terms of the breath of ideas and materials, Kapoor is part of a triumvirate that would, for me, include Louise Bourgeois (subject of a just-opened retrospective at the Guggenheim), and Martin Puryear (subject of a recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art).  Each of these sculptors, using a range of materials—some natural, some not— draws on elements from the collective unconscious (dark voids and spiders, for instance) or elements from our collective culture (domes, baskets, horns) and transforms them into vessels for navigation. Through them we may find our way between the known and the not-known, or the real and the illusory, or even shuttle between one level of thinking and another.  Then again, to paraphrase Kapoor, they may simply carry us in a general direction whose destination remains something of a mystery.

All photographs by the author.


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1 Comment »

  1. July 20, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

    sean Said,

    thats inspiring stuff.very cool.

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