Monumental? You asked for monumental? The British sculptor Anish Kapoor yesterday became the fourth artist to meet the challenge of occupying all 13,500sq m of the nave of the Grand Palais in Paris with a single work of art.
Kapoor's offering – an immense, hi-tech zeppelin, or child's balloon, with four brown-maroon PVC blobs, 90m long and 45m high – left the the Parisian art world breathless. Some of the least easily impressed art critics of the planet applauded and shouted "Bravo!" and "Merci!" when Kapoor unveiled, and explained, his "Leviathan".
The word comes from the Bible, where it is applied to the sea-monster which swallowed Jonah. Kapoor's leviathan offers an opportunity to discover how it might have felt to live "inside the whale". Visitors to the exhibition – from today until 23 June – will be ushered through a revolving door into the echoing calm and ethereal flesh-coloured light inside the largest of the four blobs. Only after they have experienced the work from the inside will they be encouraged to gape at the immensity of its exterior (as long as a football pitch).
Leviathan was also the name of a celebrated 17th-century book by Thomas Hobbes about political freedoms, and the dangers of an over powerful state.Kapoor, 57, yesterday dedicated his work to the Chinese artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei, who has been detained without charge by the Chinese authorities for more than a month.
In an interview with The Independent, Kapoor – 1991 winner of the Turner Prize – said he was not sure whether his "Leviathan", two years in the making, would look right – or even hold together – until it was assembled and inflated on Sunday.
"To me, art should also be about taking risks, about going to places where no one has been before," he said. "This is in some ways a simple object but it in other ways it is at the limit of what is technically possible."
Kapoor said that his work, although entirely his own conception, had been realised with the help of computer engineers in Britain, PVC manufacturers in France, project managers in Germany, designers in Italy and builders from the Czech Republic.
His intention, he said, was to play with the "crystal-sharp light" within the nave of the Grand Palais by designing a work which "blocked the view" and "created shadows" but could also be "seen in its entirety from the space left at each end".
It was important, he said, that visitors should have the "third experience" of seeing the sculpture from the inside before they looked at the exterior.
What does it mean? "I am not going to explain it to you," he said. "It is intended to have great emotional impact. It needs to be experienced. Not described."
But for him, he said, leviathan had multiple meanings: first, it was a primeval, untamed sea-monster; it was the sprawling power of the state. But the word also evoked for him the mysteries of the act of creation – the shapelessness and endless possibilities of the unformed piece of clay with which a sculptor began his work.
Over the past four years, the vast steel and glass-exhibition hall just off the Champs Elysées has invited artists to occupy the entire space with one sculpture, in a series called "Monumenta".
Is Kapoor's Leviathan doomed just to be an ephemeral event and to vanish forever – except in photographs – when the exhibition closes in June? "Not necessarily," Kapoor said. "I already have some ideas about where it might also be shown."