Internationally acclaimed British artist Anish Kapoor, known for his weird world of illusion and colour, has created one of his largest ever shows for Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau museum. uncube takes a visit to ‘this season's must-see art show’ to find out if the turner-prize winner still has the wow factor...
As expected‚ Kapoor in Berlin is BIG: a big exhibition with big works. No less than seventy sculptures (created between 1988 and 2013) fill the ground floor of the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall with ease. They are loosely grouped across its 3,000 square meters: A room with stones. A room with resin. Three rooms with a partially deflated plastic balloon. One room with the famous mirrors. Another room with mirrors. A room with the blood-red wax. The works (and visitors) have clearly been given ample space. In Kapoor’s repertoire there is no room for the subtle‚ small‚ or quiet.
Instead, we have the blast of canons. Every 20 minutes, an operator fills an apparently self-made canon with crimson wax. Following a brief, tension-filled moment, the wax is jettisoned with a loud explosion into a corner. This is one of several works that have been exhibited elsewhere, and which are now part of this first major retrospective of Kapoor’s works in Germany. Coming from Paris, The Death of Leviathan is full in name only: the sagging PVC balloon is by far the weakest of the works shown here, maybe just because it is so self-referential to Kapoor’s earlier work Leviathan. And despite its dramatic title (Apocalypse and the Millennium), the massive, grayish-brown pile of resin and earth, which fills one of the more removed exhibition rooms with its penetrating odor, seems similarly trivial. In light of the overpowering notes of fresh resin, one is ill advised to breathe in too deeply here.
And yet the exhibition does not disappoint. With Kapoor one can be relatively certain of what one will get. Also, amidst the pomp one finds works that are impressive and confounding, like doors to another dimension. There are the shattered stones with their thick, pigmented inlays, whose surfaces are like otherworldly geodes. Elsewhere, a white wall subtly bulges towards the light, resulting in an interplay of shadows that is more fascinating than the protrusion itself. Another room showcases soft, red wax objects pierced by the wooden instruments that formed them in a kind of a torture chamber. The smell of fresh wax permeates the room, setting the scene for a dark, archaic ritual that only recently took place.
And then there are the hallucinogenic mirrors, whose marvelous steel surfaces and soft curves are so tempting to touch – which is unfortunately prohibited by the vigilant security personnel. The incredibly contorted Vertigo casts multiple reflections of exhibition visitors in the most unpredictable places. Kapoor’s famous Non-Objects have often been photographed, but this is nothing compared to the real thing, as they distort reality into crystal clear, fluctuating forms. (Warning: Attempting to decipher the reflections back into something familiar can result in mind-boggling headaches.)
Is Kapoor a charlatan, whose trick is to bury art under bombastic, XXL effects? Certainly. But there is more. Different from Jeff Koons, Kapoor’s charm lies less in how the works are made than in the dark mysticism that seems to swathe so many of them. With some of his sculptures, Kapoor succeeds in stirring within us a sense of apprehension that grows stronger, the longer we observe them. Their oversized theatricality is reminiscent of a circus or a hall of mirrors that causes us to smile – but then to shudder as we realize all we are left with are questions.
- Florian Heilmeyer, Berlin (translation by Alisa Anh Kotmair)
Kapoor in Berlin
until November 24, 2013
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstrasse 7, 10963 Berlin