New York

Anish Kapoor

As sculptural object, the cube has been done to death—it’s a tired emblem of modernist purity and autonomy—but there is something different about Whiteout, 2004, the large white cube in Anish Kapoor’s recent show: It seemed oddly vacuous. Like a doubting Thomas, I touched it, and lo and behold, there was nothing to touch: My arm went right through its “side,” into a void. I had been blind to it, but when my arm was in the sculpture I was able to discern that its surface was concave—an oddly lingering inward curve. Looking around the gallery, I realized that curvature, however varied, informed the small stainless-steel sculptures that clung to the floor, and also “structured” a black sculpture cut into a white wall. Putting my arm into this, I experienced an odd vertigo, as though I were being drawn into an abyss.

The tour de force of the exhibition was Carousel, 2004, a towering sculpture, luminous and Minimalist-looking, the epic formality of which was disturbed by the reflective stainless steel that covered its circular base and top and, more crucially, by the inwardly curving void “around” the white tower centered between them. If, as Robert Pincus-Witten has argued, post-Minimalism “actively rejects the high formalist cult of impersonality” that reaches its climax in the “inert withholding stolidity” of Minimalism, Kapoor’s sculptures ingeniously reject impersonality by using stainless steel to mirror the viewer, implicating her in the work while distorting her appearance so that she seems invested with personality or “metaphysicalized,” transformed into something more mysterious than a banal physical presence. Returning her to herself in altered form—and altering her consciousness of herself—the sculpture seems peculiarly empathic, or at least less forbidding.

Kapoor’s statement that his “void” sculptures deal with “experience that is outside of material concern” echoes the Buddhist doctrine of the void. Not simply negative space, the Buddhist void is the “positive principle” that makes everything possible—or as Kapoor puts it, “the possibilities that are available through the material.” Kapoor wants to make the void “sensational,” to allow us to sense it. I “touched” it—experienced an uncanny sensation of nothingness—when I put my material arm into the immateriality that ironically defines the artist’s material sculpture.

Kapoor’s sculptures afford a lived experience of the void, or at least make us conscious of it, but something less lofty is at stake in them too. They are abstract representations of the curvature of the universe, and like the universe, the sculptures confound the eye. We are initially blind to the curve, then “see” it as though in a moment of revelation. This paradoxical double vision—the representation of the “scientifically” curved universe and of the moment of altered consciousness—is as close as it is possible to get to the void on artistic earth.

Donald Kuspit