Kapoor In Berlin

Anish Kapoor
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
18 May - 24 November 2013

Anish Kapoor declared to the opening crowd of Kapoor in Berlin that this survey was his best show to date.1 Fans and critics alike lined up to scrutinise his lofty claim, keen to assess how the sculptures of the international heavy weight artist translated within the walls of the Neo-Renaissance-cum-white-box of the Martin-Gropius-Bau. Featuring roughly seventy works spanning over thirty years of practice, half were either new pieces or reinventions of older works. Kapoor insisted this was an intentional decision, taken to ensure that Kapoor In Berlin would not be viewed as a retrospective,2 and there is no doubt that Norman Rosenthal curated the exhibition to resist such an assumption. Kapoor in Berlin does not simply showcase the artist’s past accomplishments but also suggests new possibilities for interpreting his practice. The show was met with a mixed reception from the public, which may indicate that the future direction of Kapoor’s practice might be diverging from the expectations of his viewers.

Upon entering the main atrium of the Martin-Gropius-Bau, the viewer is met by the massive centerpiece commission Symphony for a Beloved Sun (2013). Three black conveyor belts protrude from separate corners of the atrium floor, slowly hoisting up large slabs of rich red wax. Once each brick reaches the apex it plummets to the ground, heaping in massive piles on the gallery floor, in an offering to the imposing, opaque red sun disk suspended overhead. Kapoor’s references to both art history and the location itself are legible and cohesive within Symphony. As his major reference points for the work, he cites Joseph Beuys’s 1982 exhibition that reopened the refurbished gallery and, unavoidably, the rich history of the location itself.3 The Martin-Gropius-Bau, situated precariously on the border between the old East-West divide, endured substantial structural damage during the Nazi dictatorship. Symphony brings Kapoor’s characteristically huge scale and professional resolution together with the new context of the atrium’s neo-renaissance interior in a spectacular contrast. It also provides an introduction to the materials the viewer will see repeated throughout the exhibition. For example, Shooting into the Corner (2009–2013) utilises the same wax slabs, but in this performance they are fired through a cannon aimed at the corner of the gallery space. Like Symphony, the viewing of this performance is laden with anticipation. Its climax is disconcertingly violent and the debris from the shot is both sumptuous and devastating. This menacing and sometimes melancholic relationship between Kapoor’s materials and their interrogation within his artworks is the dominant focal point within the exhibition. For this reason, some reviews have claimed that Kapoor in Berlin reads as a ‘hellish factory’.4 However, the destructive processes within his artworks are only capable of disturbing so strongly because of Kapoor’s intentional decision to work with materials and colours which channel the malleability of the human body itself. In his own words, Kapoor is simply speaking of ‘a visceral reality’.5 His sculptures and installations cannot avoid being disturbing as their devastated state alludes to the destruction of our own bodily autonomy. Sculptures such as Apocalypse and the Millennium (2012), a grey porous mass of resin and earth that evaporates over the duration of the exhibition and The Death of Leviathan (2011–2013), a half deflated black balloon that engulfs three gallery rooms, diminish over the time span of the exhibition. They testify to the fact that time defeats all. The porous, visceral resin sculptures of First Body (2013) are amorphous masses, suspended in a process of regeneration and entropy that parallels that of our own internal organs. Even Kapoor’s shiny, distorted mirror sculptures force viewers to reconsider their notions of self through a warped perspective. All these works speak of larger defeats and failures within the self, the nation state and the natural world.

When Kapoor announced in his press statement that ‘I have nothing to say as an artist, but [my] process has a lot to say’,6 it is because his concepts have always been located in the symbolism of his materials. This symbolism surfaces once his materials are impacted by the processes involved in his art. Of course, Kapoor in Berlin provides many of the shiny crowd pleasers that have rendered him both notorious and famous throughout the years. However, these works are able to take on a new life and suggest alternative perspectives through their new ‘Berlin’ context. They read as darker, more mature, more reflective when contextualised within the politically turbulent history of the Martin-Gropius-Bau. It is this new perspective that makes Kapoor in Berlin undeniably disturbing and gruesome. Equally, it is a surprising demonstration of a depth that many doubted Kapoor still retained after years of international mega-commissions.

Anish Kapoor, Symphony for a Beloved Sun, 2013. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view Martin-Gropius-Bau, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London. Photograph Jens Ziehe. © Anish Kapoor / VG Bildkunst, Bonn, 2013.

Anish Kapoor, Shooting into the Corner, 2009-2013. Installation view Martin-Gropius-Bau, 2013. Photograph Jens Ziehe. © Anish Kapoor / VG Bildkunst, Bonn, 2013.

Anish Kapoor, Apocalypse and the Millenium, 2013. Resin and earth, 270 x 450 x 395cm. Installation view Martin-Gropius-Bau, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London. Photograph Jens Ziehe. © Anish Kapoor / VG Bildkunst, Bonn, 2013.

Anish Kapoor, The Death of Leviathan, 2011-2013. P.V.C, dimensions variable. Installation view Martin-Gropius-Bau, 2013. Photograph Jens Ziehe. © Anish Kapoor / VG Bildkunst, Bonn, 2013.

notes: 

1. Kate Connolly, ‘Anish Kapoor in Berlin: “in short, Britain’s fucked”’, The Guardian, Thursday 16 May 2013. See http://www.fadwebsite.com/2013/05/18/anish-kapoor-in-berlin-in-short-britains-fucked/

2.Kapoor in Berlin / Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin / Interview with Anish Kapoor’, http://vernissage.tv/blog/2013/05/19/kapoor-in-berlin-martin-gropius-bau-berlin-interview-with-anish-kapoor/

3. ‘Anish Kapoor draws on Berlin’s dark history in new show’, ST Communities, The Straits Times, 25 May 2013. See http://stcommunities.straitstimes.com/show/2013/05/25/artist-kapoor-draws-berlins-dark-history-new-show

4. James Shaeffer, ‘A Factory from Hell’, Art Parasites.com Magazine, 21 May 2013, Berlin. See http://www.berlin-artparasites.com/reviews/factory-hell-1112

5. Geir Moulson, ‘Wax and Mirrors: Anish Kapoor Opens Show in Berlin’, AP, 17 May 2013. See http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/wax-mirrors-anish-kapoor-opens-show-berlin-19199971#.UaAFyKKmh30

6. James Shaeffer, op. cit.