A Review of Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery, London
It’s a big year for Marylebone-based Lisson Gallery, as it celebrates its fiftieth year in the art world with its sixteenth exhibition of Anish Kapoor’s work. This new show represents a development in Kapoor’s oeuvre - one that is made possible by drawing on many recognisable elements of his work. You’ll recognise the mirrors, the intriguing use of red, the playful materials of his sculptures, but this show is more emblematic of Kapoor’s strive to blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Indeed, Kapoor has said that he views himself as “a painter who is a sculptor” (Art Monthly, May 1990), and this is certainly evident in the new sculptures that are the key focal point of this show - the artist says that he was surprised at the effect and similarity of exploring the connections between these two mediums.
Very different materials contribute to the complementary feel of the exhibition - stainless steel convex mirrors, monumental silicone sculptures secured to the floor and walls with metal boltings and covered in gauze, works on paper in gouache. It might seem like the show is disjointed, but there is a carefully conceived narrative that transcends the dichotomies between materials used. The red silicone sculptures are perhaps the most intriguing works in the show, and certainly a big draw thanks to their size and almost disturbing appearance. Silicone, a man-made substance that differs from the naturally occurring silicon, must be used within an hour when it is made, meaning that Kapoor must work quickly and with either a spontaneous or highly focussed approach. The action and time restraint associated with the process of making these works recall the activities of the Abstract Expressionists. The sculptural forms rationalise the links between painting and sculpture - the artist holds a keener interest in sculpture and installation, but here explores and marries the two forms in a manner that proves they are not as different as they first seem.
The use of silicone, and particularly in the intensely immersive shade of crimson that Kapoor uses, makes these ‘painted sculptures’ seem almost anthropomorphic. These large works are sinuous, awkward, muscular, the colour red reminding the viewer of visceral substances such as blood. Kapoor’s interest in the Greek legend of Marsyas, who had his skin flayed by Apollo and who has inspired much of Kapoor’s body of work including his 2002 Turbine Hall commission. Indeed, the largest is entitled To a Mouth, and seems almost tumour like in its form. It is as if these sculptures exist with a life of their own, eloquently captured by the raw material. Kapoor is surely addressing questions here of interiority and being. One is perhaps reminded of his infamous 2009 show at the Royal Academy; particularly the look and idea of Svayambh - the installation that moved slowly through the galleries of the Academy, brutally spreading forty tonnes of red wax across its pristine white walls. Furthermore, these works draw on Kapoor’s recent experiments with painted silicone, including the triptych Internal Object in Three Parts (2013-15) which was exhibited at Lisson in 2015.
Yet these new sculptures are restrained, almost cut off from the viewer, by Kapoor’s enveloping use of gauze as netted encasements. These ‘veils’ spark a conversation, changing how the viewer perceives the object. It is almost as if the sculpture is the object and the gauze is the shadow that is irrevocably entwined with it. Brutal nuts and bolts attach the gauze to the sculptures, a contrast between the harsh nature of the man-made fixings with the organic shape of the sculptures; yet the silicone and gauze materials are themselves wholly man-made. Kapoor describes his own work in terms of rationality and geometry, best embodied by the two convex stainless steel mirrors that present a finished alternative to the sculptures - particularly Horizon (Red), which is half-painted red, in lacquer, on a harsh horizontal axis.
These two mirrors, like the veiled silicone forms, question and provoke the idea of seeing - reflections in the mirrors are inverted, and their placement within the galleries provide many elements of contrast within the show. This geometric rationality is obviously challenged by the silicone sculptures, but also by Kapoor’s new works on paper. These may well seem understated in relation to the rest of the works in this show, but they are exciting in their comparative mundanity and in the fact that they are rarely seen in Kapoor’s commercial shows. Made in gouache, the forms within these works are volcanic, lava-like, apocalyptic, meteoric. As their forms reflected in the larger sculptural works, they are not contained merely to paper. With such evocative titles as Luna and Grunt, they certainly reflect the tensions in the silicone work; the contrasts between the types of artwork on display, and the contrasts within the works themselves, set a new challenge to Kapoor’s audience.
Written by Georgia Messervy, a Contributor to Arteviste.