Singular Gems—Anish Kapoor at the Sackler

By LIZ HAGER

anish-kapoor

Anish Kapoor, S-Curve, 2006, polished steel, 32 feet (photo © the author).

File this post in the “Better Late Than Never” folder.  We admit gross dereliction of duty, possessed as we were in January by Inaugural Fever.  As a result of the mayhem, we overlooked posting on quite a number of the exceptionally good art offerings in our Nation’s Capital. Thankfully, we didn’t neglect everything—you’ll find Whistler at the Freer and Leo Villareal at the National Gallery among the Venetian Red pages. We we lucky to catch the Robert Frank retrospective—”Americans”—exhibition at the tail end of its run at the National Gallery. Fortunately for us, the show is coming to SF, so look for a posting in anticipation of that opening in May.

In the meantime, we are reminded that Anish Kapoor’s sculpture S-Curve will be in the entrance hall at the Sackler Gallery until mid July.  S-Curve is fashioned from two 16-foot-long pieces of polished steel placed that are placed back to back to form a convex and concave wall. In its construction, this work references the sculptures of Richard Serra’s, Band (2006) in particular. Further comparison is thwarted by the mirrored surface; images bounce back at us, making it impossible for us to really grasp the materialness of the sculpture.  As Kapoor once said: “The minimalists, of course, were very, very concerned with the idea that ‘What you saw was what you saw.’ That’s it, it’s there, nothing else. Now, I’m afraid I don’t believe that. I’m afraid I believe that what you see isn’t what you see. It’s never what you see. It never was what you see.” (Interview, Greg Cook, 6/2008).

The reflective curvature immediately evokes funhouse mirrors and their distortion of space. The distorted reflection of the space around it is alternately disorienting and fully engaging. It’s challenging to adjust your sight to the distortion, but then again the panoramic picture that morphs and changes with viewer movement presents infinite visual delight. The distorted reflection creates an additional dimension, the space in front of the sculpture, which is simultaneously real and illusionary.  Herein lies the fundamental genius of the piece—although the sculpture is solid and stationary, it is also fluid and dynamic.

Illusion is at work in S-Curve on another level. Like his other highly-reflective pieces (Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park is a predecessor), here Kapoor has pushed the boundaries of surface articulation, or, more precisely, lack thereof.  On these shiny surfaces the artist is nowhere in evidence. The irony of course is that many professionals labored mightily to produce a piece that looks untouched by human hands.

Perspectives (Contemporary Asian Art)”  until July 19, 2009. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Wider Connections

Mental Floss—Sculpture is an Heroic Art

Kapoor interview, Guggenheim Berlin

Big, Red & Shiny—Anish Kapoor at the ICA


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