New York

Anish Kapoor

Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

The marvel of Anish Kapoor’s sandstone sculptures (all 1993) is that they are able to renew the sense of enigma and ineffability that the best abstract art affords while seemingly not bound by the terms of its history, even as it uses them. Kapoor’s stone is so uncannily equated with itself that it becomes unrepresentable, that is, untranslatable into terms other than its own.

Through this ironic irreconcilability, Kapoor’s stone achieves a “transcendent” state of self-identity with no need of a code—not even that of the “sublime,” which measures transcendence by human expectations—to be brought to consciousness. Indeed, he subtly stretches ironic irreconcilability to the limit, making it appear freshly radical. Paradoxically, he makes hard stone seem soft in a way that abstracts and “real-izes” hardness with special poignancy; he smooths rough-cut stone in a way that makes its roughness uncannily emphatic and “ecstatic,” calling special perceptual attention to it. Above all, he voids the solidity of stone in a way that unexpectedly makes solidity seem all the more implacable. Ingeniously renewing the tension between contradictory properties and thus affording an epiphany of their relationship, Kapoor suggests that each property disputes the other, seems even determined to eliminate it, though they depend on each other. Kapoor not only declares the necessity of both properties (a sculpture that looked completely soft and was all smooth would seem unreal, and one in which solidity had been completely voided would not exist), but foregrounds the enigma of their inseparability and interplay.

Negative space is given a new, visionary dimension in Kapoor’s sculptures, which removes it altogether from the descriptive organic reference of, say, the voids of Henry Moore’s figures. The void becomes an abyss that definitively solves the “problem” of Modern sculpture, which at its most consistent and intense is an attempt to finesse three-dimensionality and above all the narcissistic concept of the human body as the measure and most “perfect” realization of space as well as scale. Kapoor’s magic Bright Mountain, 1993—fraught with all kinds of crosscultural and ultimately transcultural associations—not only defeats bodiliness and scale through its aura of disembodiment and miniaturized monumentality, respectively, but affords a purer revelation of the silence of Being than his sandstone sculptures do. That is, the unrepresentable inner, gnostic illumination that his mountain—a three-dimensional model of Buddhist enlightenment and desirelessness—represents is suggestive of the blissful state that comes from the liberating recognition of the paradox of desire. (Desire is implicit in the “cycle” of contradiction between the properties at play in the sandstone sculptures. They are signs of its demiurgic force in “sculpting” the cosmos in all its contradictoriness.)

To recognize the paradoxical force of desire with all one’s being is to escape it: the Bright Mountain represents this profound intuition and freedom. The untitled sandstone sculptures are propaedeutic to it: it is no accident that they were exhibited in the gallery’s main space, while one had to go downstairs, into a kind of inner sanctum, to climb the Bright Mountain—to transcend oneself, and complete one’s journey on Kapoor’s mystical path into the immeasurable, shapeless space beyond the mountain’s peaks. Just as the sand and stone (contradictory but equally dark materials from a gnostic point of view) have been transfigured, so nature will he reversed and become an unearthly brightness.

Donald Kuspit