New York

Anish Kapoor

Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

There’s a strange elegance to Anish Kapoor’s drawings: they’re at once troublingly obscure and masterfully finished. Kapoor is known primarily as a sculptor, and this show, which marks the first major exhibition of his drawings (a show of his works on paper also opened during the same month at the Tate Gallery in London), prompts one to ask what place they have in his larger oeuvre, and how impressive they would seem had the sculpture not preceded them. Less exploratory than one might expect, and very much works in their own right, the drawings elaborate themes introduced in Kapoor’s previous sculptural works.

Kapoor’s objects are compelling in their massive delicacy; inflected with an Eastern quality, they reject Western monolithic phallocentricity in favor of a sort of vaginal heroism. One lingers over these darkened interior voids, hollowed out of rock and dusted with velvety, carnal pigments; one pauses to sniff, yearn, and touch at the same time that one shudders at their consuming emptiness. Looking into a Kapoor sculpture can be simultaneously seductive and very nearly gruesome.

Kapoor’s drawings are by their two-dimensional nature less able than the sculptures to lead one in. When they do, it is via trompe l’oeil effects, and the results achieved provide less of a physical thrill. The drawings make up for this, however, by saying more, by serving as a road map of Kapoor’s interests and preoccupations. If they don’t provide the visceral intensity—the sex-death resonances—of his sculptures, they admit the reassuring pillow talk afterwards that reveals at once more of the man and less.

This is not to suggest that these drawings do not excite; they do. They’re intimate and seductive in their own right. Less viscerally engaging perhaps, they’re nevertheless highly personal; the vocabulary of shapes and textures is familiarly idiosyncratic, and the sensations they inspire equally charged. We find the same infernal red and powdery violet-blue pigments here, the same yawning orifices, the same dense blacks. But we find, as well, a determined referentiality, and with it comes an awareness of the artist’s craft and control. Every mark and buckle in the paper feels intentional, and while the drawings seem vulnerable (some are done with such unlikely—and presumably fragile—media as pigment-and-varnish), even that vulnerability strikes one as purposive. It’s not just the art we’re presented with here, but the artifice too. The drawings do compel, but modestly; they’re handsome, but awfully calculating. One leaves the show as one might leave a new lover—not after sex, but after a long breakfast, feeling not so much a thrill as a more moderate, reserved appreciation.

Justin Spring