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The void within us:
On the Sculptures of Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor's work is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection with more than a large selection of works on paper; one of his most important sculptures is situated in the lobby of the Deutsche Bank headquarters in London. "Turning the World Upside Down" is a gigantic hollow ball in shining silver that reflects the room around it. And this autumn, the British-Indian artist will be making a commissioned work for the Deutsche Guggenheim, while the Deutsche Bank VIP Lounge at this year's Art Cologne will be dedicated to his work. Alistair Hicks on Kapoor's investigation of the perception of interior and exterior worlds.

Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, Millenium Park, Chicago, 2004,
Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London

Where's the hole in Chicago's "Bean," officially known as Cloud Gate, 1999-2006? Is it the cavern where crowds cluster beneath the hundred-and-ten-ton sculpture that Kapoor has erected in Millennium Park, or has the hole in his sculpture disappeared? The mirrored surface is smooth enough to ensure that there are no other hidden spaces: there is no way inside the piece, yet Kapoor's main theme is the void.

Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004, Millenium Park, Chicago,
Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London

His first stainless steel spherical work, Turning the World Upside Down 1, 1995, is one big hole and two-sided mirror. The piece has been installed in the lobby of the London headquarters of Deutsche Bank since 1999. Its concave reflections literally turn the world upside down; its convex exterior confronts us with infinite space.

Anish Kapoor, Turning the World Upside Down III, 1996,
Winchester House, London,
Deutsche Bank Collection

This all-embracing ambition of Kapoor, coupled with his cleverly elusive self-commentary, has exposed him to criticism. He has been sniped at for being too abstract. "It is the ambivalence that interests me in the end," as he recently maintained in a Financial Times interview. The ambivalence is vital, as this artist's deeper subject matter is not the hole in sculpture, but the void within ourselves.

Anish Kapoor, aus der Serie "Wounds and absent Objects", 1998,
Deutsche Bank Collection

Most of Kapoor's sculpture politely asks the viewer to contemplate it. The new commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim, which will be on view from October 30, 2008, through January 25, 2009, may be more insistent. The artist will be making the viewer work, as it will be impossible to see the whole of the egg-shaped structure from any one perspective. The viewer will have to piece together the image himself. Of course we do this naturally; it has been part of the process of experiencing Kapoor since his earliest works. The difference is that this has become clearer in his works on the theme of the void.

Anish Kapoor, Yellow, 1999,
Installation view Haus der Kunst, München
© Jens Weber, München

Confronted earlier this year at the Haus der Kunst by the magnificence of Yellow, 1999, a straightforward hole in the wall, I just stood and gaped. The work invokes primitive worship. On the other hand, Turning the World Upside Down, although it was made three to four years earlier, requires a more complicated response. We cannot see the reduced image of ourselves and the reflections of the piece's surroundings at the same time; we don't instantly reconcile them, but our understanding of the piece relies on this reconciliation of the microcosm and macrocosm.

Coming to terms with Svayambh, 2007, again requires similar skills, but this time the emphasis is on stitching together concepts and emotions. It is a large blood-red block of vaseline, paint, and wax that moves on railway lines between and beyond two doors. It doesn't really fit through the doors, but squeezes between them, leaving a bloody mess behind it. It was made for two museums, but I saw it in the second, Munich's Haus der Kunst, which with its Nazi origins induced obvious thoughts of the Holocaust camps.

Anish Kapoor, Svayambh, 2007,
Installation view Haus der Kunst, München
© Jens Weber, München

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