Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Anish Kapoor: Don't mistake him for an Indian

Exhibition at Mehboob Studio, Bandra, Mumbai (From November 30, 2010 to January 16, 2011)  National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (November 30, 2010 to February 4, 2011)

Anish Kapoor is an England-based artist with an Indian name. So any one stepping into the Mehboob Studio in Mumbai and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi to see his work being exhibited for the first time in the land of his birth should not be looking for traces of Indian sensibility or use of ethnic cultural Indian motif traces. Kapoor is a cosmopolitan in both its positive and pejorative senses - rootless. Yes, he was born in Mumbai and his father was a Punjabi which is evident through the surname. His mother is a Hungarian Jew and he went to school in Israel and studied art in England from 1970 onwards. It would have been better if either Kapoor or the organisers of the exhibition had
put up a sign, 'This is not the exhibition of an Indian artist.'

Kapoor is recognised and respected among modern art lovers in England, Europe and the United States. He does abstract modern art through audacious sculptural forms using steel, wax and other modern materials and has enough flair to explain it all in non-explanatory language as he does in a film about him being shown at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. For example, he says that his art exists between meaning and non-meaning, and that earlier he had to go out to tell people about what his art work meant and now people explain to him what his art is all about.

This is really arty talk of the modern kind. He had also undergone 15 years of psychoanalysis, and he says that it had helped him to reach within himself. Now that is both nicely western and modish. That is what is expected of a romantic artist working in a modern world moulded by science and industry. He is romantic and a modern because he still believes that the creative process is unpredictable, playful and it does not have to necessarily carry any meanings. And he does not seem to believe in any kind of Eastern mystical ancient roots,
which is what many exiles and expatriates would like to reach back to. If anything, Kapoor is peering into the future and nothing else. He does not disown the East. The distinction does not exist for him.

The works in Mehboob Studio comprise mainly of polished steel in different geometric shapes with convex-concave surfaces. There is a winding wall-like installation made of polished steel and when the viewer stands before it he sees
himself or herself. And as the viewer moves from one end to the other, the reflection takes different forms, including the inverted one as on a camera film. In the mid-point of the steel where the surfaces glide into each other, the reflected ground sinks and rises and shifts. The reflection blurs and re-constitutes itself again. Kapoor literally gives a new connotation to the old adage of art being the mirror of life. This work not only mirrors but it also shapes the reflection. The solid world from where the viewer is looking at the work dissolves and re-emerges.    

Most of the works at NGMA in New Delhi are miniaturised replicas of his larger pieces placed in landscapes, including the Cloudgate (another steel work in an airship shape) in the Millennial Park in Chicago, or the horn-shaped hollow encrusted into a hillscape on the sea-coast in New Zealand and made of fibre
material used for sails which will withstand the windy spot. What is interesting about Kapoor's work is that he is constantly experimenting and he does not tie himself down to any leitmotif. He keeps himself free from the tyranny of
subject, the ultimate declaration of artistic freedom. What comes out of this is anarchy of forms. The artist exults in this but the viewer should not suspend his or her sense of judgment. S/he has to decide whether it pleases the eye and the mind, or either of them.

Kapoor represents the uncertainty of the era we are living in. We do not know whether we have passed through modernism as such and whether we are coming out of the modernist tunnel and emerging into the light of another era. Kapoor's
forms are surreal and even almost irreal. It is a twilight zone. It could be either the end or a beginning. These exhibitions are exciting, to say the least.

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