Art review: Anish Kapoor, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
Monday 20 May 2013
Some of Anish Kapoor's ventures into gigantism have been questionable successes.
Think of the gruesomely entitled ArcelorMittal Orbit, that roller coaster of a blot on the landscape of East London that eventually transmogrified, after a fierce and unseemly battle between aesthetics and mammon, into a spectacular viewing platform for the 2012 Olympics. Is his first major museum show in Germany also an exercise in sculptural muscle-flexing?
Characteristically, the work shifts from the rough to the smooth and then back again. The organisation of the show is intelligent. It is well paced and well lit, and it proceeds through a processional of galleries that encircle the museum's central atrium, where it begins in pure spectacle. 'Symphony for a Beloved Sun' fills that vast atrium with a hanging red disc of a sun, surrounded by long metal chutes up which ingot-shaped slabs of ox-blood-red wax are being carried, gravely slowly. When they reach the top of the chute, they pitch over and fall to the floor, leaving behind disorderly heaps of elemental mess. A significant detail disappoints. Why is the red of the sun so much less rich and visually provocative than it might have been?
Elsewhere, across eleven galleries, we see much that is characteristic and familiar: highly polished mirrored surfaces which play tricks with our seeing; writhing, wormy extrudings of cement. Some specific works are familiar from elsewhere: the cannon which blasts slabs of pigment into the gallery's corner was shown at the Royal Academy in 2009. A monstrous, semi-deflated barrage balloon called 'The Death of Leviathan' has been on view at the Grand Palais in Paris. Everywhere, his use of colour impresses. It has a kind of primal forcefulness. It is never mere surface embellishment. The newest of the new include what look like cut-away sections of the slithery, gaping mess of human bodies, except that they are made from resin.
What do we make of it all? The rough upheapings of extruded clay are exercises in tough-minded unrefinement. They demonstrate that the sculptor is engaged with the muck and the mess of it all, that he is an honest toiler at authenticity's coal face. Quite the opposite are the highly polished concavities and convexities of his mirrored surfaces and orifices. In short, he is a master of the sculptural spectacle. But is he much more than this? It entirely depends upon what freight of significant meaning you decide to load him with.
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