"The interesting thing about a polished surface to me is that when it is really perfect enough something happens – it literally ceases to be physical; it levitates, it does something else. What happens with concave surfaces is, in my view, completely beguiling. They cease to be physical and it is that ceasing to be physical that I’m after."
Flawlessly radiant, Untitled by Anish Kapoor seduces the viewer with every inch of its meticulously crafted surface. Suspended above the ground at over 2 metres in diameter, the majestic work confronts and envelops the viewer within its orb of gleaming silver – its curved face arced delicately inwards to encompass the totality of its ambient space. The immaculately reflective material broadcasts a visual and physical weightlessness; nothing exists within its ellipse other than distorted and disorienting remnants of reflection, such that the piece manifests as an enigmatic portal or porthole towards an alternate universe that is simultaneously empty and full. The manipulation of space, the interrogation and reconciliation of interior and exterior, the material and immaterial, as well as the possibilities of emptiness and the void have been central to Kapoor’s oeuvre throughout his career. All these investigations are perfectly epitomized in the present piece: through the concave curve of the mirror, the presence of negative space is asserted as an integral part of the work and made tangible; while the shimmering surface, polished to perfection, lures the viewer into otherworldly depths of the void. A phenomenon of visual-somatic experience, the stunningly resplendent work hails from Kapoor’s iconic series of wall-mounted mirror sculptures that epitomises the very best output of the world-renowned sculptor.
Kapoor began creating his astonishing curved sculptures at the turn of the millennium, utilizing the potential of the format in a range of different colored metallics, of which the silver examples are strikingly powerful in their celebration of a perfect polished surface. Radiating an alluring solar elegance, the mercurial hues of the work manifest a prism that liquefies all imagery captured within; as the viewer’s perspective changes, these quicksilver layers of reflection undergo sudden metamorphosis into total fragmentation, providing a visual experience of constant abstract and intangible flux. As a successor to Constantin Brancusi’s innovative employment of the highly polished surface, the transitory act of looking itself becomes dialectically inherent in the artwork. In its invocation of a dialogue with our perception and interpretation of space, Untitled excavates a ground-breaking domain of “new space” in art: in ways similar to Lucio Fontana, whose pioneering project of Spatialism sought another dimension beyond the canvas, Kapoor has spoken of his search for the “infinite” and made the iconic assertion that “to make new art you have to make a new space” (the artist cited in exh. cat. London, Hayward Gallery, Anish Kapoor, 1998, p. 52). Yet unlike Fontana, whose violent slashes and holes tear through the skin of painting as esoteric portals into a theoretical spatial infinity, Kapoor conceives a more accessible domain of “new space” that includes the viewer.
As epitomised by the hanging Untitled, this is a clear break from precedent: “In a painting the space is beyond the picture plane, but in the mirrored voids it is in front of the object and includes the viewer. It’s the contemporary equivalent of the sublime, which is to do with the self – its presence, absence or loss. According to the Kantian idea, the sublime is dangerous because it induces vertigo – you might fall into the abyss and be lost forever. In these sculptures you lose yourself in the infinite” (the artist interviewed by Sarah Kent in Royal Academy of Arts Magazine, Autumn 2009, No. 104, p. 43). Indeed, the disorientation of Kapoor’s silver dish incites a concurrent affirmation and negation of surface that entirely disseminates and confounds the viewer’s gaze. With its ability to arouse such enigmatic visual and physical experiences, Untitled invites connections to the spiritual idea of the Sublime – the theory popularized through the writings of Edmund Burke in the 18th century that advocated the contemplation of natural wonders and awe-inducing phenomena as a source of creative inspiration. In Kapoor’s own words: “It seemed it was not a mirrored object but an object full of mirroredness. 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. I continue to make these works because I feel this is a whole new spatial adventure” (the artist cited in exh. cat. Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Anish Kapoor, 2008, p. 52).
In a recent interview Kapoor recalled the aesthetic revelation which led to the creation of his mirrored works following his sculptural inquiry into infinite void-like space: “I stumbled onto the idea that one could make an object that was concave. Suddenly this was not just a camouflaged object; it seemed to be a space full of mirror just like the previous works had been a space full of darkness. That felt like a real discovery. What happened was that it wasn’t just a mirror on a positive form – we have had that experience from Brancusi onwards. This seemed to be a different thing, a different order or object from a mirrored exterior…” (the artist cited in Hossein Amirsadeghi and Maryam Homayoun Eisler, eds., Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and their Studios, London 2011, p. 436). Glowing, orb-like and emitting a pale cool light akin to a dimly glowing full moon, Untitled invokes an endless stream of allusions spanning myriad cultures and mythologies entrenched in notions of life and light. An object of timeless beauty and commanding authority, Untitled relays a warped echo of our world with a timeless commanding authority – a prime example of Kapoor’s singular and widely celebrated sculptural practice.