Review: Anish Kapoor – Martin Gropius Bau – Berlin

I was 18 the first time I saw Anish Kapoor’s work. A student exchange programme had brought me to Chicago two years before, and I was visiting the Windy City once more. As I strolled through a new inner-city green zone, the Millennium Park, I noticed one of Kapoor’s works in the neighbourhood of a playground and an open-air amphitheatre.

It was there where I discovered the artist’s dedication to the shape and surface of his extraordinary objects. A 10m x 20m x 13m bean-shaped work, titled Cloud Gate, was placed in the park. In this public space, people could touch it, feel it, take photographs of themselves reflected in the bent mirror of steel.

Many artists who produce sculptures for public parks in Europe are rarely found in major exhibitions in museums. Others, to whom museums dedicate huge exhibitions, rarely produce work for public spaces. This was why I was thrilled to find that Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau had an exhibition of Kapoor’s work during the time I was there.

In the past, Kapoor’s shows have often comprised just one big work. This was the case in 2002, when he created the sculpture Marsyas in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and with the work Leviathan in Paris’ Grand Palais in 2009. This Berlin exhibition now brings together his older, smaller works and combines them with new works created especially for the Berlin setting.

The biggest new work is located in the Lichthof, right in the centre of the building, where several Förderbänder, or conveyor belts, lead into the room. Every 15 minutes, two workers lift a block of red wax, the size of a basin, on to one of them. It takes few minutes to be elevated into the room before it crashes on to the floor with a dull thud. In the background, a giant red dot resembles the sunset over an ocean of red wax, which changes its structure over the duration of the exhibition. This work, Symphony for a Beloved Sun, is the largest of a series of experiments in the medium of red wax.

[Interview with the artist and footage of the exhibition]

In another room, we see a metal stencil circling a big chunk of the material, carving the shape of a room-high bell. That the audience could not restrain themselves from touching the wax, as numerous fingerprints on the sides of the sculpture indicate, shows the fascination the blood-red material has for both everyday visitors and the artist himself.

A number of shapes of polished stained steel, which reflects like a mirror, are given enough space to be encountered from various perspectives. These and others are also playful. We see whole families making their way through the exhibition with children experimenting with both the visual and acoustic resonances of Kapoor’s work. And the works often have irony. There is the pregnant wall that grew a belly. There is a hole in the floor that we do not know the depth of, as we are only allowed to look at it from far away. And there is a little black hole in a wall, which, only when we walk around it, turns out to be the exhaust of a big machine, an industrial monster ready to spit fire at any moment.

What coheres these works are the endeavours into the material, the experiments with acoustic and visual reflections and absorptions. They are perfected to a degree, which makes the audience doubt their own senses and often fosters a playful approach.

So does the work Shooting into the Corner, which the exhibition is named after. In this small room, an air-driven cannon fires a piece of red wax into a corner of the room. The spectacle takes place every hour. Spectators gather in the room and are provided with earplugs. A man in a blue overall enters the room without looking at them. He is only involved with his task: filling the cannon with a ball of wax, locking it, waiting until the air pressure has built up to a certain degree and then blasting the thing into the corner of the room, where it slides down and eventually merges with the pile of wax on the floor. The image of blood and bodies being pointlessly fed to canons during wars sticks with the crowd, which cannot help but smile as they make their way back into the Lichthof.

The new works raise questions: the Berlin adaption of the Leviathan, a big sculpture of a rubber material that is partly filled with air and seems to be in a state of perpetual collapse, is coloured brown. Maybe a reference to the nearby ruins of the Gestapo headquarters, as the radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur points out? Maybe the blood-red sculptures reference the brutal history of the city?

Kapoor’s works are not easy to get hold of. They are sculptures that need to be looked at from different perspectives, but which will also provide different perspectives in response. At the start of this creative process, Kapoor must have asked the question, ‘What is sculpture?’ And then he gave the most varied answer possible.


Installation Specs:

Size: The exhibition fills the whole of the lower floor of the Gropius Bau, so it’s not small. In about half a dozen rooms, his works are put on display. The Lichthof, a large square in the centre of the building filled with daylight, in particular hosts an impressive work.

Why you should see it: This show included many of Kapoor’s older and well-known works, such as the massive air-filled rubber structure Leviathan and the air-driven canon, Shooting into the Corner, which fires every hour. However, it also has a number of works specifically created for the exhibition in Berlin. These include the biggest one in the Lichthof called Symphony for a Beloved Sun, where you can see a block of red wax drop down every 15 minutes.

Dates: Runs from 18 May to 24 November 2013

This gets you in: €11, reduced rate €8, and free admission if you’re below 16 years.

More information:

Martin Gropius Bau

Great photos of the exhibition, in which photographing is not permitted, can be found on Flickr:
(but if you seriously think about going, don’t check them out. Rather go and discover for yourself).

Publication: Anish Kapoor – Symphony for a Beloved Sun (Walther König ISBN 978-3-86335-327-8)

Main Picture: Cloud Gate by Robert Lowe


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