Anish Kapoor

Lisson Gallery | 27 Bell Street | London

On the sunken floor of the gallery rested 16 large sandstone blocks in five rows: Void Field (all works, 1989). Each is rough-hewn, varies in shape and size, and has a smallish black hole in the top. The igneous, pinkish-red rocks were like furnaces drawing in the space around and above them and, indeed, the gallery seemed very hot. No other work yet has so completely taken over this place and made it so strange and unfamiliar. This sense of dislocation was compounded in the anteroom by a long, flattish piece of ridged slate transformed into a human-size wing and painted a luminous blue. The title, Angel, confirms, as if a bit of heaven from a Giotto had dropped out of the sky and materialized on the ground. There is, though, in spite of the blue, something very down-to-earth about this work; as it lies solid and strong, like a guardian to those hollow, expectant forms beyond.

The two works seem inseparable, bound by one of Anish Kapoor’s characteristic strategies: the simple pairing of relations. Angel is singular, solid, its surface colored: Void Field is a group, each weighty boulder reduced to a shell whose internal surface is pigmented a dark blue-black. What is on the inside is on the outside, what should be heavy is not; walking around these works one becomes oriented to their erotic play of opposites. But there is ambiguity here: the unfallen angels are neither male nor female. Kapoor’s sculpture seems to blur rather than confirm difference. (An early student work of his was the outline form of a hermaphrodite, drawn in chalk on the floor.) Kapoor’s concern is less with sexuality as such than with the spectrum of sensory and emotional experiences of the physical world.

There is no doubt that this installation made an assault on the senses unprecedented in Kapoor’s previous work. If you stooped to peer inside those engulfing black holes, you smelled not chemical color but the sour-sweet damp of earth. The work on first sight has the illusory, arresting quality of the esthetic object, but this Scheincharakter (appearance) is constantly sullied by the bonds of physical and psychological causality: just how long did it take to cut out the inside of all that rock? It is not possible to look at this work with the degree of disinterest that, say, a Richard Long or even a Giovanni Anselmo affords. With Kapoor it is all too easy to get carried away by a rush of desire, by mystical yearnings—for ritual and spiritual transcendence. This brings us a long way from the deconstructive materialism, the taxonomy of parts in, notably, early Tony Cragg. Interestingly, Kapoor’s sense of subjective metaphysics, European as well as Indian in origin, is shared to a greater or lesser degree, by other contemporary British sculptors such as Richard Deacon, Alison Wilding, and Antony Gormley. Much has been made of Kapoor’s concern with his Indian roots, but this concern simply marks him as an affiliate to a line of British artists and poets who have drawn on Eastern philosophy and religion—from Blake and Coleridge to Yeats. Blake might even find Kapoor’s Void Field and Angel a satisfactory Vision of Albion: “There is a Void outside of Existence . . . Jerusalem his Emanation is a Stone Laying beneath.”

Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton