Ever since the Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor emerged in the early 1980s, success has quickly followed on success. The early geometric forms made of powdered pigment, followed by solid sculptures and reliefs featuring deep “voids” or mirrored surfaces, have lately led to massive museum installations like Marsyas (2002), a blood-red, stretched-PVC sculpture that filled the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern, and such public art behemoths as the stainless-steel Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The five steel-mesh Tees Valley Giants that are currently under construction (with structural engineer Cecil Balmond) in the northeast of England are being called the biggest art project in the world.
So the more intimate side of Kapoor revealed in his new drawings at Regen Projects’ space on Almont Drive presents a bit of a conundrum. The 15 untitled, modest-size gouaches (3 by 4 and 5 by 6 feet, 2007 or ’08), related to works shown at Gladstone Gallery in New York in 2007, were spaced evenly around the walls at eye level, with the larger of the two sizes positioned roughly in the middle. The dominant color is Kapoor’s trademark red, though it gives way to shades of pink, blue, purple and inky black, shot through with occasional brighter flecks. More or less identical in composition, each centers on an oval cavity or chasm—which runs the gamut from open, like the full moon, to clenched tight—surrounded by undulating vertical folds and wiry, almost pubic curlicues. Associations range from the gynecological to the cosmological, as in interstellar clouds.
Hard to categorize, these pieces can be considered quick sketches in the mold of Kapoor’s sculptural “non-objects.” There’s a lot to be said for this assessment, especially given their more than passing resemblance to three-dimensional works like Whiteout (2004) and Mother as a Void (1989-90), which produce an altered consciousness of one’s bodily space. There’s also a kinship with “paintings” like My Body Your Body (1993), where a shaded veneer of pigment attempts to draw the viewer into the very center of a “magical eye,” or alternatively spit him out. Leonardo’s advice regarding the perfect distance from which to view a painting—the length of the human face—seems absolutely critical here.
But intriguing though these gouaches are, they just don’t make the phenomenological grade we have grown to expect from Kapoor. Nor is their waxing and waning vagina-moon-anus as metaphysically profound as, say, When I am Pregnant (1992), a shaped wall whose mystical, nearly indiscernible swelling, here one moment, gone the next, at least points us in the right direction. If establishing a balance in the kinds of face-offs he typically stages—between sculpture and painting, representation and abstraction, and presence and absence—is essential to his work’s success, then Kapoor’s gouaches are unambiguously abstract. That doesn’t mean one couldn’t eat them with a spoon.
Photo above: Untitled, 2007, gouache on paper, 473⁄4 by 593⁄4 inches; at Regen Projects.