White Dark VIII perfectly encapsulates Anish Kapoor’s belief that space can only be rendered through physical material, rather than through absence. Standing before the immense, wall-mounted sculpture, the viewer is made acutely aware of the space contained within the delicate outer rim of the spherical form. The concave work simultaneously protrudes from and retracts toward the wall, articulating the space between art and viewer. The pristine, matte white color of the sculpture suggests a sterility that is reinforced by the absolute perfection of the form; the work is a blank canvas, each detail is precisely rendered and completely abstract. The only thing the viewer can discern is the physical space articulated by the dimensions of the sculpture itself.
Kapoor has explored the definition and perception of physical space since his earliest works as a sculptor. His early series of pigmented floor objects, 1,000 Names (1979/80), played with the boundary between submersion and protrusion. Seeming to pierce the floor and walls that support them, the floor objects question the viewer’s perception of the exhibition space around them. In the mid-1990’s, Kapoor began producing wall-mounted mirror sculptures that took his interrogation of the viewer’s perception of space even further. These “voids” manipulate the room around them, involving the viewer in the warped reflection of the space as he or she moves by.
Although Kapoor’s sculptures are incredibly innovative in their exploration of space, his style is deeply rooted in the tradition of minimalist sculpture. In their breathtaking simplicity, his works recall Donald Judd’s “Specific Objects." Like Judd’s Objects, Kapoor’s pieces demand that the viewer abandon any representational references and meet sculpture on its own, simplified aesthetic terms. Speaking about his practice, Judd noted, “Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” (Donald Judd, Specific Objects, 1964) Kapoor, like Judd, uses simple materials and forms to render the spatial realm with a precision that a flatwork never could. Kapoor’s sculptures are equally indebted to Constantin Brancusi’s exquisite sculptures of delicate, simplified heads. White Dark VIII is particularly reminiscent of Brancusi’s oeuvre; the sloping, spherical edges echo the softly curving heads and hands of Brancusi’s La Muse Endormie and Mademoiselle Pogany. Kapoor, like the minimalist sculptors that precede him, uses simple materials to render spaces and figures that would be otherwise intangible.
Beyond simply articulating space through physical material, however, Kapoor aims to impress the immense power of that space upon the viewer. The artist notes, “The spatial questions it seemed to ask were not about deep space but about present space, which I began to think about as a new sublime. If the traditional sublime is in deep space, then this is proposing that the contemporary sublime is in front of the picture plane, not beyond it.” (Exh. Cat., Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Anish Kapoor, 2008, p. 52.) White Dark VIII offers a simple, open shape to the viewer, inviting him or her to consider the space between and within. Simultaneously, the white, opaque surface resists any attempts to visualize within that void. Inside the sloping dome of the sculpture, there is no nothingness—no darkness, no void—to be seen. Instead, contained within the perfectly spherical shell of White Dark VIII, the viewer finds the overwhelming white light of the Kapoor’s new sublime.
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