Zerin Anklesaria reviews the Exhibition of the Art of Anish Kapoor which is on in Mumbai till January 16, and briefly evaluates his achievement.

In Mumbai's Mehboob Studios where cinematic illusions were created not so long ago you encounter a fantasy world of another kind in the installations of Anish Kapoor. This Bombay-born NRI artist has made his reputation abroad, winning the most prestigious assignments and prizes, but is little known here. His first Indian exhibition at two venues has therefore been eagerly anticipated. In Delhi the focus is on sculptures and architectural models spanning his career, while in Mumbai a selection of new works is on show.

Life as it is

As you enter this huge anonymous room with bare cement flooring and walls of exposed brick the first thing you see is self-images in strangely dynamic forms, ever-changing as you approach the central exhibit. At one moment you are an outré elongated figure like a stilt actor in an ancient Greek Tragedy, at another a ballet dancer leaping and swirling and pirouetting or an acrobat doing a split. The image refracts, is distorted, separates and comes together again, to balloon out into a huge multi-patterned oval hovering over the top of the frame like an aerostat. The possibilities are endless as we, the observers, are drawn into the art-work, becoming a part of it, our figures reflected in the gleaming sheet of stainless steel shaped into a slender ‘S', the sigmoid curve, stretching to a length of 975 cm.

Though the geometric form is unchanging its alternating concavities and convexities resemble the flow of running water reflecting the fluidity of our lives, constantly deflected, shaping into new avatars. Seven of the nine pieces on display are of the same highly polished metal, carefully placed so they reflect each other from different angles, and the images of the viewers moving round them are multiplied in contorted forms. ‘Spire' is starkly minimalist, it's flared base seeming to rise out of the ground, the sides curving smoothly inwards and the peak narrowing sharply to a needlepoint. As you move towards it or turn away reflections of yourself and your stark surroundings, are repeated in new and curious ways, giving you a mysterious identity outside yourself, integrating the human element into an otherworldly environment that appears to spread out into infinity yet is held tightly within the soaring contours of the sky-pointing sculpture. A spire has always been rich in associations. A church, a Burmese pagoda, an emblem of hope and aspiration? One wonders.

Symbolism, however, is not Kapoor's concern, nor is his art descriptive or narrative. Primarily he seeks to explore geometric forms, to stretch them beyond their linear boundaries or recreate them in three dimensions. The large rectangular metal sheet titled ‘Plane' is shaped like a ‘C'. Propped against the wall it turns reality upside down, the floor and ceiling changing places, ourselves taking on yet another aspect. ‘Door', a tall cuboid standing approximately midpoint, reflects the surroundings in a series of dramatic black whorls, while the imaginatively titled ‘Pole' is an elegant hollow cylinder shaped like an hourglass, the narrow centre bringing divergent lines together. 2 large concave discs are companion pieces.

The smooth surface of one contrasts with the other which is broken into several tiny angular segments, creating a play of light like the facets of a diamond and shattering our images into zigzag fragments. The two remaining sculptures in red wax stand in opposite corners, offsetting the mirrors and defining the exhibition space. In ‘Stack' the wax is piled up against a white wall- surface in a seemingly random manner. Approaching it from one side it appears as a Chinese landscape in the Taoist style, with a shrine standing on a rocky precipice plunging into an unseen abyss, reducing three tiny human figures to ciphers in Nature's immensity. Seeing it frontally it resembles a guillotine, while it actually turns out to be a forklift truck smeared in red goo. Alas for our fanciful interpretations!

Restlessly curious, daringly original, Kapoor experiments constantly with new ideas, unusual forms, and materials no one has used before. He is ever willing to question clichés and stand a stereotype on its head, and the viewer, expecting the unexpected, is not disappointed. For suddenly the contemplative calm of the studio is shattered by a booming explosion. A terrorist? No, an attendant operating a cannon, shooting a ball of red wax into a corner at regular intervals, splattering it with ‘blood' and leaving a constantly morphing mess on the floor. In this self-creating sculpture, both an installation and performance art, we are reminded that war and violence are, in the end, ineluctable. To get an idea of the multi-talented oeuvre of this prolific artist one must go beyond the limits of this exhibition to his larger, site-specific works.

The best known is the iconic ‘Cloud Gate' set up on the Plaza in Chicago's Millennium Park. An elliptical convex mirror weighing 100 tons and measuring 33 x 66 x 42 ft., it reflects the ever-changing sky and the tall surrounding buildings, twisting and distorting them in a perpetual dance of form and light. To some it looks like a huge blob of mercury and the locals affectionately call it The Bean, which Kapoor excoriates as ‘completely stupid'. Supported on an arched gateway 12 ft. high, its underside is centred in the Omphalos, the legendary navel from which the Earth came into being, its concave rings throwing multiple images back at you as you pass through. ‘ Cloud Gate' is an elemental sculpture drawing into itself heaven, earth and all living things, a universe in microcosm.

Same difference

While some critics think of Kapoor as the greatest of living artists and a genius, others see sameness in his work, too many sky mirrors for instance. As if to answer them he is now working on a structure unlike anything he has done so far, creating the tower for the London Olympics, which again turns conventional ideas upside down. The form is not linear but orbital, and resembles red thread, actually steel wire, winding upwards round a central stem to the viewing platform, the whole tilting like the Pisa Tower. Rising to a height of 115 metres it overtops both the Statue of Liberty and Big Ben.

The artist wants ‘to create a sensation of a certain kind of instability' in tune with modern civilisation, and the sinuous coils of the Tower, say some critics, bring to mind the tenuously twisted spirals of the DNA's double helix. Others rudely call it a folly and one trenchantly asks “£19 million for a piece of string? Could be a bargain.” Is Kapoor's art futuristic? Yes, but not as outlandish as that of Damien Hirst with his fetish for dead animals.

Keywords: Anish Kapoorartsculpture