A Colossal Talent*
Anish Kapoor's monumental sculpture approaches the architectural
Neville Wakefield -- Interior Design, 8/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Scale is not always a friend to great art. All too often, size transforms imagination into mere fabrication. Except, perhaps, in the case of Anish Kapoor. First known for pigmented voids carved into raw hunks of rock—saturated, intimate, and elusive—the Indian-born Turner Prize winner is currently concentrating on artwork of truly architectural dimensions. This past spring, the mysterious double trumpet of his Marsyas all but filled the turbine hall of London's Tate Modern. Next year, the city of Chicago plans to install his gargantuan stainless-steel jelly bean at the new Millennium Park, right next to Frank Gehry's band shell. And the Italian city of Naples has asked him to design a metro station, a project he's developing with that most sculpturally minded of architectural practices, Future Systems.
Do you see yourself expanding sculpture into the architectural field?
It's something I've been involved with since the 1992 Seville expo in Spain, when I made Building for a Void, which was a spiral wrapping a tower. However, even though the Seville piece and Marsyas are both large-scale, I'm interested in them as art, not architecture.
Meaning that they resist utility?
More that they resist the process of rational form-making. Sculpture's primary concern is the body, but less in its relationship to space than to residual memory—innate, nonverbal responses to color, form, scale, etc.
The vast scale of Marsyas demands that you continually move around it.
I didn't want to encourage a narrative reading. Not apprehending Marsyas in its entirety is an important part of the experience. Because a viewer has to imagine the whole, the work is made whole by the viewer.
How does your Naples metro station fit with this idea?
We're making sculpture you walk into. In the city of Mount Vesuvius, all projects of this sort must become a descent into limbo or the underworld. That in itself is interesting, since I've never come across an underground station that actually acknowledges being underground.
If one thinks of the tunnel as a kind of stocking, our forms for Naples are rolled-up stockings that pour out of the earth. It's the form of much of my work over the years.
Is that stocking a simultaneous expression of interior and exterior?
Exactly. Constantin Brancusi's great adventure in form is upward, onward, forward, and phallic—the rocket, in other words— while Donald Judd's incredible notion of form being enclosed seems to reverse Brancusi completely. If I may dare to put myself in that line of thinking, the next step is the whorl that's continually turning itself inside out.
How did you and Future Systems collaborate?
Interestingly, the Neapolitan planning authorities had previously invited architects to design the metro stations, then asked artists to make work in them. For reasons known only to those in charge, they decided to do the opposite with me, so Future Systems—with whom I collaborated on a proposal for the Princess Diana memorial fountain—engaged in the complex process of making the space a reality.
Tell me about the Chicago park.
It's a 100-ton stainless-steel object 66 feet long by 33 feet high by 47 feet wide, a single compound surface that collects and reflects light and images, like a drop of liquid mercury. At the moment, it's being built in California, using very sophisticated computer mapping. To make this work is absolutely not cheap. Private sponsors have been able to raise a phenomenal amount of money in pursuit of a dream.
Would these projects be possible without today's engineering technologies?
There's an art-historical notion that certain kinds of imagination can happen only once certain technology exists. I'm not sure if that's true. Certainly Marsyas and the Chicago project would have been very difficult to realize without three-dimensional computer modeling. But Antoni Gaudí did what he did in spite of the technology. Imaginative potential for form always exists. The interesting question, however, is whether making something previously unrealizable opens the imagination to what wasn't thinkable before. I don't know the answer to that one.
An untitled 1999 rock-carved void filled with pigment and a similar piece from 2000.
Models for a metro station in Naples, Italy, designed with London architecture firm Future Systems.
The 1999 Sky Mirror III in stainless steel, reflecting part of the British city of Nottingham.
A model for Anish Kapoor's first U.S. public work, a stainless-steel sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park.
The turbine hall at London's Tate Modern with Marsyas, constructed of PVC and steel.