Anish Kapoor (born 1954) Untitled 2012

Here's looking at you

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 43, Summer 2015

Page 12

Anish Kapoor's monumental mirrored sculptures compel us to examine ourselves as well as the space we inhabit, says Francesca Gavin

The act of looking is omnipresent in modern times. Contemporary eyes are glued to screens, phones and transient moving images. Yet in Anish Kapoor's work, the act of looking is transformed beyond the fleeting into something unique. His sculptures make the process of looking more intense. He is an artist whose work creates a sense of psychological disruption and the illusion of everlasting depth.

Anish Kapoor is one of the most important artists to have emerged in the UK in the last 30 years. The winner of the Turner Prize in 1991, he has exhibited at the Royal Academy and Tate Modern in London, the Grand Palais in Paris and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. He represented Britain at the 1990 Venice Biennale and was knighted for his services to visual art in 2013. His mirrored Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago is one of the best-known public artworks in America. His largest project to date is to be unveiled in June in the gardens of Versailles in France.

Kapoor is also one of the first artists – alongside Jeff Koons and Michelangelo Pistoletto – to gain serious attention in recent decades for his reflective artworks. Standing in front of one of his mirrored works, which he began to make in 1995, is a disconcerting experience. The viewer cannot help but physically interact with its convex space – falling into the work, unable to discern how deep or far its surface goes. This void-like experience is something Kapoor has successfully made with pigment-covered curves as well as mirroring. No matter the material, there is a feeling that the planes of existence fall away, inducing a sense of vertigo. Nowhere is this feeling more in evidence than in Untitled, 2012, which will be offered by Bonhams in London's Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale in July.

The late psychologist Jacques Lacan famously proposed that the human relationship to the mirror was one of the most fundamental experiences in life. His 'mirror stage' theory proposed that we create our own identity through our reflection. Kapoor's work at times becomes a perfect metaphor for this sense of emotional and internal complexity. We see ourselves formed within its surface.

Reflection and mirroring has become notably present in contemporary art – appearing in pieces by artists including Rashid Johnson and Iván Navarro, Josephine Meckseper and Jeppe Hein. The resonance of the mirror brings physical and intellectual encounters to the fore, but it can also be a provocative reference to our current age of glossy screens and selfies. What all these artists share, along with Kapoor, Koons and Pistoletto, is a desire to place the viewer within the work itself. We do not just look at the object or stand next to it – our bodies become at one with the piece. These pieces are also no longer inanimate but are ever changing, brought to life by the space they reflect. There is also a metaphysical statement at play here – something of the magician's wand.

Kapoor was born in Bombay in 1954, and came to the UK in 1973 to study art, first at Hornsey College and then Chelsea School of Art. His early pieces – made from piles of vibrant, colored pigment – were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in the 1984 survey show held to mark the opening of the new building.

That decade, his work focused on large stone installations, and he started to create curved works that became increasingly void-like. As he began working with mirrors, he extended that sense of void into reflection. These pieces became his central focus – increasingly large and often in public spaces. In recent years he has returned to color. His blockbuster Royal Academy show in 2009 included kinetic works using blood-red wax, and new, visceral wall paintings. Yet throughout his practice there has always been a sense of a manipulative awareness of the viewer's body.

The mirror is a medium that captures outer space and interior being, the future and the past. It is one of the most simple and hypnotic surfaces of human creation – pushing us away and simultaneously drawing us in. As with the likeness of Medusa in the shield of Perseus, reflection has a sense of the deadly. It highlights mortality. Life itself is reflected for a moment, then distorted, changed and removed from its reflection. Kapoor is an artist who has made this mutable material truly his own.

Francesca Gavin is Visual Arts Editor at Dazed & Confused.

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