Kapoor describes his artistic practice as “drawing in towards a depth that marks and makes a new surface, that keeps open the whole issue of the surface, of surface tension.”8 He calls this depth the void. According to the artist, his artworks are not objects but voids, since the space the artworks contain is “larger than the object that contains it.”9 At their best, the space contained in Kapoor’s voids is apparently limitless. This emptiness—this intimation of space beyond any contained notion of space—is destabilizing for the beholder. Where space and objects in space nest within an understanding of cosmos, of the world or universe as an ordered, harmonious system, emptiness and objects which seemingly contain or otherwise invoke emptiness open out onto an understanding of chaos as a gaping or formless void. Out of chaos, that yawning abyss, notions of the universe, order, harmony and meaning evolve. Kapoor’s interest to create “an object which is not an object, to make a hole in the space, to make something which actually does not exist,”10 charts a movement from cosmos to chaos, from object in space to formless void. This move, played out across the surface of Kapoor’s artworks in the aesthetic experience of them, “keeps open the whole issue of the surface, of surface tension.”
In the Haus der Kunst, Kapoor’s voids alter the architectural space by creating their own sense of place. At the same time, they depend on the beholder’s interaction with them. Like icons, their purpose “is to be the support of a contemplation.”11 Two large-scale, polished stainless steel works, S-Curve II (2006) and C-Curve (2007), capture the viewer’s reflection on their surfaces—the reflection of an individual in the Haus der Kunst. In this way, they serve as ground to the figure of the beholder and as the support of his or her contemplation. At one end of S-Curve II, I see a mirror image of myself; at the other, I see myself magnified, reflected from my shoulders down, along with the floor and ceiling window, all of which are distorted into Op shapes which undulate slowly in and out of focus. On the other side, the place of mirror image and magnification are reversed so that now bits of the floor and walls are captured along with me. A quiver of perspectival views array themselves before me as I amble along S-Curve II. Nowhere do these points of view arrange themselves into a view. Any view at all is determined by my presence and desire.
It’s not enough to say that S-Curve II and C-Curve create the illusion of a multitude of perspectives for the beholder. More to the point, these works and others in the installation press on the idea of perspective itself, splintering the idea of a unitary viewpoint into a multitude of viewpoints or, occasionally, into space without a point of view. Emptiness. If the Haus der Kunst was generated from the aspiring ideology of a National Socialist “Thousand Year Reich,” a house erected on a totalitarian certainty, then S-Curve II functions as one of Kapoor’s “One Thousand Names,” as a sculpture which has a thousand possible names.12 It is the beholder who grants a meaning to the “One Thousand Names,” since these sculptures, left to themselves, are void of specific meaning.
The sculptures Kapoor calls “One Thousand Names” demonstrate that content does not equal meaning. Meaningless content might be meaningful, if one succumbs to the invitation to contemplate the void where meaning should be. Historically speaking, and the Haus der Kunst speaks in amplified tones, the shattering of perspective that these works elicit is only salutary. In the words of the philosopher Simone Weil, like Eliot a European who was deeply affected by the wars of European nations, “Whatever is real enough to allow of superposed interpretations is innocent and good.”13
- From conversations between Anish Kapoor and Homi K. Bhabha, 1998, in Anish Kapoor (London: Hayward Gallery), 12.↵
- Anish Kapoor quoted in Anish Kapoor: Sculpting the Void, exh. cat. (Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 2003), 21.↵
- Anish Kapoor quoted in Henry Moore: Epoche und Echo. Englische Bildhauerei im 20. Jahrhundert (Künzelsau: Swiridoff, 2005), 42.↵
- Ananda Coomaraswamy, Selected Papers: Traditional Art and Symbolism, vol. 1, ed. Roger Lipsey (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 237.↵
- Kapoor began to make the relatively small yet large-scale floor sculptures entitled One Thousand Names in 1979, the year he returned to India for a visit. (The artist provides a useful distinction between an artwork’s physical size and its scale when he notes that scale refers to the artwork’s impact.) The mounds of colored powders he saw there inspired his use of color in sculpture.↵
- Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, introduction by Gustave Thibon (London: Routledge Classics, 2002), xix. For Weil, “contradiction is the criterion of reality” (xxii).↵