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Performing sculpture: Anish Kapoor's spatial optics

Delving into the warped world of Anish Kapoor's monumental sculptures...

What does it mean to exist in space? In the work of Anish Kapoor, the answer is in the spectator. "Without your involvement as a viewer, there is no story."

Undoubtedly one of the most important artists working today, Anish Kapoor has irrevocably shaped the physical and cultural landscape we now live in, inheriting the mantle of prestigious British sculpture from modern 20th-century greats such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Kapoor's sculptures adorn public spaces and gallery walls alike, rendering industrial materials into flawlessly geometrical and visually pristine forms to generate a dynamic dialogue with the surrounding environment. As much as his work is about form, it is embedded in the conceptual: "artists don't make objects. Artists make mythologies."

shooting into the corner, anish kapoorAnish Kapoor, Shooting into the Corner, 2008-9

Though Kapoor's work transcends multiple visual themes and material evolutions, threaded through his post-Minimalist practice is the enduring invitation for viewers to interrogate their relation to inhabited space, embodied through the emotive and often illusory quality of his sculptures. Whether it is by using of upside-down mirrors and convex reflections, or creating pitch-black 'depthless' objects, Kapoor challenges, even assaults, the expectations of optical perception, forcing a 'double take' and reexamination of one's phenomenological experiences.  

Installation view of Anish Kapoor's restrospective exhibition 'Flashback' at Manchester Art Gallery, 2011
Anish Kapoor, White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers, 1982 

Born in Mumbai and living in Israel for a brief time, Kapoor abandoned his initial academic pursuit in electrical engineering to follow his vocation to become an artist. In 1973 he moved to London to attend the Chelsea School of Art and Design, and soon after gained traction in the art world in the 1980s, both critically and commercially, primarily through his series of abstract sculptural forms whose surfaces were saturated with vibrant powder pigment. He gained institutional recognition through exhibiting his work at prestigious venues the Hayward Gallery and Whitechapel Gallery, and expanded his artistic foray into different materials, incorporating quarried stone and metal alloys into subsequent pieces. 

'Cloud Gate', aka 'the bean', Chicago, IL
Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2006

The crowning jewel of Kapoor's oeuvre is unquestionably his mastery of stainless steel, a recurring and iconic motif seen especially in most of his major public commissions. Polished into perfectly reflective curvatures, these works, which include Chicago's famous Cloud Gate (colloquially known as 'the bean') simultaneously occupying and distorting the environment it inhabits, projecting a warped visual field back onto the individual like a deliberately obvious camouflage. His series of S and C-Curves, installed globally from Cleveland to Kensington, intervening in landscapes with its constantly kinetic and ever-oscillating surfaces, harking back to the monumentality of form in Richard Serra's notorious Tilted Arc and funhouse mirrors of carnival nostalgia. 

After winning the 1991 Turner Prize, earning a knighthood in 2013, numerous major architectural commissions including the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower in London's Olympic Park, and with 98 solo exhibitions, 447 group shows, 21 biennial appearances, and 67 art fair features under his belt, what's next for the artist? For Kapoor, it's anything but retirement: "being an artist is a very long game. It is not a 10-year game. I hope I'll be around making art when I'm 80."

Anish Kapoor's 'Sky Mirror', Kensington Gardens 2006
Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2006

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