ARTS: EXHIBITIONS: It's all in what the eye cannot see

Anish Kapoor has brought a new solemnity to the Hayward's galleries, filling them with his distinctive sculptural voids, encased in shiny, pristine surfaces

IN RECENT YEARS, the Hayward Gallery has occasionally, and generously, given all its spaces to a contemporary sculptor. Richard Long, Julian Opie and now Anish Kapoor have had this privilege. The Hayward is a difficult space for sculpture, but Kapoor has used the galleries with more ingenuity than his predecessors. He hasn't overcome the grimness of the outside sculpture courts, and the corridor between the two top galleries remains an intractable problem, yet the Hayward makes a sympathetic showcase for Kapoor's elusive art.

Like Long and Opie, Kapoor is not a sculptor with a particular interest in fashioning original three-dimensional forms. All three of them depend on their capacity for display - making large-scale artistic interiors of the kind that look so good in modern museums. In this area, Kapoor has had the invaluable help of the architect, Claudio Silvestrin, who deserves some of the credit for the success of the show. What he gives us is not exactly an installation. It's more an architectural redesign of all the Hayward's interior spaces. He could do nothing with the sculpture courts, where pieces stand or fall on their own merits, and in the awkward corridor Kapoor looks suspiciously like an airport artist. But everywhere else, Silvestrin has blocked off entrances and exits, built new walls and altered the shape of rooms to give a feeling of new and pristine solemnity.

This fits precisely with Kapoor's ambitions. He wants to show us things we have not seen before and, with his invention of "the void" as a sculptural concept, does so. He's concerned to have surfaces so pure that they repel the hand, however much our instinct is to explore the insides of his mysterious sculptures by tactile means. Some pieces are covered with pungently coloured pigment. Others, in stainless steel, are as polished as a mirror. Sculptures made from fibreglass and wood have a miraculous faint yellowy-snowy whiteness, nacreous and virginal, as though marble had been reinvented for a new century. Smoothness suits Kapoor's character as an artist. Whenever he has previously used rough material - sandstone or limestone, for instance - the sculptures have failed. This new, polished finish is more relevant to his talents.

As for the solemnity, Kapoor (born in Bombay in 1954, educated at Hornsey and Chelsea Schools of Art) was first noticed in the early 1980s, when he was an artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, and had his first show at the Lisson. Everyone remarked that his sculpture had Indian roots, although its banal, floor-based forms were the common currency of British postgraduate sculpture departments. His work always reminded us of shrines or temples. A metaphysical tendency seems to have grown since that time. Certainly it was pronounced when Kapoor showed at the Venice Biennale in 1990. Eight years later we are being asked to regard him as a major religious artist. This is the purport of the embarrassingly overblown essays in the exhibition catalogue. It's easy to resist the cloudiness of such writing. Still, it remains true that Kapoor asks us to look at something that we cannot understand. Often, we can't grasp a meaning because it's in part of a sculpture that's almost invisible, while the general outline of the sculpture is as plain as can be. This is the interior which he calls a void. He can't manage it with stone, but in wood and fibreglass pieces, he does a soft circular burrowing down from the surface, or a harder rectangular burrowing, so that you cannot see what's in the part that he has excavated. The eye loses its grasp, and there's a sensation of emptiness, all the more so because there is so little trace of the work of the human hand. Kapoor has been showing works of this sort for a few years now. I've never seen anything quite like them before, and am intrigued.

The deadening fault of these sculptures is that the interesting part of them resides in illusion. Everything apart from the void, which you cannot properly see, is ordinary. Kapoor cannot create strong three-dimensional shapes of his own, so he goes for three alternatives. His outlines are circular or spherical, so that composition looks after itself. Or else they are box-like. Or else they are upright slabs. The boxes are the best and contain the most charming "voids". The slabs are disappointing, they lack personality. The uncomfortable truth is that they might have been made by any one of a dozen British sculptors in the last decade or so.

Stainless steel pieces, all circular, reflect the observer. When they are convex and embedded in a wall, you see yourself distorted and upside down. The only truly moving work is on the bottom floor. In a room constructed by Silvestrin, a huge, round dome-like structure hangs from the ceiling, open at the bottom. You can stand underneath and look upwards at its unfathomability. Perhaps Kapoor and Silvestrin ought to do some architectural work together - at Greenwich?

! Anish Kapoor: Hayward Gallery, SE1 (0171 960 5226), to 14 June.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?