Constantly blurring the lines between art, architecture and design, Turner Prize winner Anish Kapoor is one of Britain’s best loved sculptors.
Born in Mumbai in 1954, Anish Kapoor moved to London in the 1970s to study art at the Hornsey College of Art and later at the Chelsea School of Art & Design. It was during the 1980s that Kapoor began exhibiting with the New British Sculpture group, which included artists such as Richard Deacon, Tony Cragg and Julian Opie, and gained critical acclaim for his simple curved sculptures, made from traditional materials such as granite, limestone, marble and plaster. These works were often brightly coloured using powder pigment, a method he is still known for today.
In 1990 Kapoor was invited to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale where he was awarded the Premio Duemila Prize for his pavilion. In 1991 he won the Turner Prize and the next year he participated in the ninth edition of the prestigious Documenta exhibition. In 2002 Kapoor was chosen for the prestigious Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern and since then he has created a number of high profile public sculptures such as Cloud Gate – or ‘The Bean’ – in Chicago, as well as more architectural projects like Taratantara at the Baltic in Gateshead and ArcelorMittal Orbit, a large scale tower commissioned for the London 2012 Olympic Park which, at 115m in height, became the tallest sculpture in the UK. In 1999 Kapoor was made a Royal Academician and in 2013 he was awarded a knighthood for his services to the arts.
Playing with the perception of space and light, Kapoor’s sculptures seem to recede before the viewer or distort the environments they stand in. This effect demonstrates Kapoor’s fascination with matter, non matter and the concept of infinity. As he says of his creative process, “In the end, I’m ... thinking about making nothing, which I see as a void. But then that’s something, even though it really is nothing.” With all its voids and protrusions, Kapoor’s work has also been read for its sexual connotations. Whether it’s his vision for an underground station in Naples, of which he said, ‘It’s very vulva-like. I wanted to ... acknowledge that we are going underground,’ or works such as Dirty Corner at the Palace of Versailles, which Kapoor described as representing "the vagina of a queen who is taking power”, the artist is not afraid to confront the often erotic qualities of the materials and forms he is working with.
In 1995 Kapoor began working with highly polished stainless steel, the material he is perhaps most closely associated with today. Creating a mirror-like surface this new direction brought the viewer in confrontation with themselves as well as the materiality of the work.
In the 2000s Kapoor turned to wax to evoke associations of flesh, blood and transfiguration in his work. His most notable work from this period is perhaps Svayambh – which means ‘self-generated’ in Sanskrit – a 1.5 metre block of red pigmented wax that travelled on rails around the pristine galleries of the Royal Academy, creating, as The Guardian put it, ‘A very fine mess’. Another highlight from the RA show – which marked the first time a British living artist had taken over the institution – was the installation Shooting into a Corner which saw Kapoor load up a cannon with this red wax and fire it all over the walls and cornicing of one of the rooms, allowing it to pile up into a sculpture of its own.
Made in 2008 for the Guggenheim Foundation, Kapoor’s work Memory was created using Cor-Ten steel which is designed to produce a protective coating of rust when exposed to the elements. With its powdery orange finish and monumental scale, the piece inevitably drew comparisons with the work of Richard Serra whose site-specific sculptures paved the way for artists like Kapoor.
Yves Klein, who has become almost synonymous with cobalt blue, is also an important influence on the artist. Void, Kapoor’s piece for the 1990 Venice Biennale, featured 16 huge red sandstone blocks, each with a hole bored into the middle. In a nod to Klein and his own heritage, Kapoor filled the void with the kind of powdered blue pigment used in Indian religious ceremonies.
In 2014 Kapoor announced he had acquired exclusive rights over the artistic use of a paint labelled as ‘the blackest black’. Vantablack, which is thought to be one of the least reflective substances ever made, was developed by a group of scientists, reportedly in conjunction with the artist. His announcement created a furore in the art world and beyond with many criticising him for trying to claim ownership of a colour or material and deliberately excluding its use from other artists. In retaliation artist Stuart Semple proceeded to create a pigment called ‘the pinkest pink’ and made it available to anyone who could buy it, except Kapoor and his associates. This ultimately did not work, however; in 2016 Kapoor posted a photo of his middle finger dipped in Semple’s paint on Instagram. Since then Semple has gone on to create close imitations of Vantablack and other pigments, with the same restrictions.
On the Market
Kapoor’s work performs well at auction, with his large scale sculptures consistently selling over the million dollar mark. The artist saw his prices peak around 2014 and 2015 and major retrospectives, however in recent years they have slowed a little.
While Kapoor is best known for his sculptures, the artist has also created a large body of printed editions over the course of his career, from vibrant etchings which explore his fascination with colour and form, to the 1998 series of digital prints, Wounds and Absent Objects which originated in stills from a video work of the same name. These works and more offer collectors the chance to own a piece of this leading artist’s work for a fraction of the price of his sculptures.