Anish Kapoor


Sir Anish Kapoor (Bombay, March 12, 1954) is a British sculptor of Indian and Iraqi Jewish descent.

Born to an Indian father and a Jewish Iraqi mother, at the age of nineteen, after studying for two years in Israel in an electronics school, he moved to England to enroll in art school. He became fond of Marcel Duchamp”s celibate machines and met the man who would become his master, Paul Neàgu. He creates a series of installations aimed at investigating the main themes of his artistic career: the androgynous, or the female-male dichotomy, sexuality, ritual with a wider use of sculpture in tune with some research of the sixties, such as Arte Povera or the work of Joseph Beuys.

In 1979 he rediscovered his Indian identity by going to his country of origin, becoming aware of a sort of extraterritoriality on the border of two cultures, the Eastern and the Western. Kapoor returns to England and creates the series of 1000 Names, unstable sculptural objects. In 1980, at the studio of Patrice Alexandre in Paris, he held his first exhibition. The following year at the Coracle Press in London he obtains his first personal exhibition. It is born a strong friendship with the owner of the Lisson Gallery in London, Nicholas Longsdail.

In 1990 he participated as a representative of Great Britain at the XLIV Venice Biennale where he was awarded. In 1991 he won the Turner Prize. He obtains various commissions, both public and private. He uses different materials: from Carrara marble, granite, slate, sandstone for works such as Void Field or Ghost of 1989. He tries his hand at reflecting surfaces, creating deforming mirrors or even cancelling the image itself, giving life to works such as Double Mirror of 1997, Turning the World Upside Down of 1995 or Suck of 1998. Taratantara is a work for the Baltic Centre in Gateshead. Chicago”s Millennium Park commissions the famous Cloud Gate, shaped like a large bean, eighteen meters long and nine meters high, made of stainless steel. It is a work without a center, a large deforming mirror that reflects the landscape around it and the sky in a single surface.


Anish Kapoor uses materials such as granite, limestone, marble, wood and plaster to create objects with enigmatic, geometric or biomorphic shapes, covered with colorful pigments, a clear reference to Indian chromatic imagery. The colors are mostly warm and endowed with a luminosity almost of its own. A lightness that always coexists with darkness and that often turns into mirrored surfaces that reflect or absorb light and reality around. For Kapoor the color red has the meaning of passion, of the setting sun, of the bloody snow after a battle, but above all of the inside of our body.

The color blue, or better Prussian blue, has a meaning similar to the one it had for Yves Klein. Blue is a color particularly beloved of esoteric philosophy and in all religions is used for all that is sublime, spiritual, transcendent and infinite. Kapoor uses blue powder to dematerialize forms and make them impalpable, almost pushing them to levitation, preventing us from understanding the real nature of what we are observing. The skin is for Kapoor the moment of tension and action of the work, the place where we feel the change. The works are configurations of objects, they become gardens or rather places, they invade the space of the room and absorb it until they become part of the work itself. Their titles suggest Hindu mythological images, but the impact with the work always brings us back to a physically perceptive dimension, where the only means of knowledge are our senses and our body.

Towards the middle of the eighties, dualities are gradually resolved through the reabsorption into unity, as if the longed-for union of opposites, male and female, tangible and intangible, inner and outer, had finally come true and we see the poles joined in a single configuration. Born Place, 1983, Pot for Her, 1984, Mother as a Mountain, 1985. Since the mid-1990s he has explored the concept of emptiness, creating works that disappear into walls or floors, to destabilize our assumptions about the physical world. They give a visceral and immediate impact to abstract dualities, such as presence and absence, infinity and illusion, solidity and intangibility. Kapoor focuses on the active or transformative properties of the materials he uses. “I am very interested in the non-object or the non-material. I have made objects in which things are not what they at first appear to be. A stone can lose its weight or an object in a mirror-like way can blend into its surroundings to appear as a hole in space.”


All Kapoor”s works have clarifying titles. The title, in fact, as Marcel Duchamp used to say, is a fundamental part of the work. For example, let us examine The Healing of St. Thomas of 1989: it is an almost imperceptible scrape made on one of the walls of the exhibition room. A red laceration on the white wall, a kind of wound: like the one on the side of the risen Christ that Thomas wants to touch to be sure of his wonderful presence. Between 1989 and 1990 Kapoor creates a work entitled Madonna. The viewer is admitted to the presence of the art object in a frontal manner. Bound to the wall by an invisible support, the work appears as if suspended. It is not possible to see what we are seeing: the object seems to consist of a large circular disc and this impression increases, rather than decreases, as one approaches it.

Having almost come into contact, the spectator perceives the presence of something inexplicable; the disc seems to be endowed with an attractive and mysterious force: one has to stretch out one”s hand to understand whether it is a flat or hollow substance. At that moment something irreversible happens. Having gone beyond the illusion of a flat surface, the hand penetrates into the sudden space of emptiness, nothingness and absence. The observer should have stopped in front of the evidence of the mystery of the work, just as he should stop in front of the mystery of the sacred, without trying to rationalize it. For the Christian religion the virginity of Mary represents a similar question and the mystery of the conception of Christ is and must remain elusive. The deep meaning of this work lies in the awareness that, in the disillusioned and secular time of our age, man wants to try to challenge everything, to try to get in touch with and understand the mystery of the sacred.

A very particular sculpture, but with a different meaning from the one mentioned above, is certainly When I am pregnant, made in 1992, in fiberglass and paint; its dimensions are 198 x 152 x 15 cm. Made on a white wall, it consists of a bulb that emerges from the wall as a protuberance; depending on the position the viewer takes, it is possible to see the work more or less clearly and sharply.

The 1000 names, created around 1979-80, are unstable sculptural objects, shapes between the abstract and the natural, completely covered with pure pigment, whose intense color, mainly yellow and red, hides the origin and suggests the idea of a trespass into classical forms, primarily circles and rectangles that are apparently complex, constructed in a variety of synthetic and natural materials, such as aluminum, various pigments, enamels, resins, polymers and PVC to give unique effects to classical and organic forms. Shooting into the Corner is a cannon that fires cylindrical projectiles into a corner of the gallery where they explode like a body in a bad Hollywood movie. Installed in 2008-2009, it is powered by a pneumatic compressor and is reloaded by an attendant, with a 20-minute interval between shots.

In 2009, Anish Kapoor is appointed artistic director of the Brighton Festival: the artist installs three sculptures, Sky Mirror in the gardens of Royal Pavilion, Blood Relations in collaboration with the writer Salman Rushdie and 1000 Names at Fabrica. He also created two new works: one entitled The Dismemberment of Jeanne d”Arc and a performance entitled Imagined Monochrome. The audience response was warm. Sky Mirror literally brings the sky down to earth: it is a circular stainless steel sculpture that rests on a platform a few feet above street level. Installed in New York, its concave side, angled upward, reflects the sky and an upside-down portrait of Rockefeller Center. In contrast, its convex side, facing Fifth Avenue, reflects a more earthly view, including viewers in the middle of adjacent streets.

This object changes the way we see through day and night and is an example of what Kapoor describes as a “non-object,” a sculpture that, despite its monumentality, suggests a window to nowhere and often seems to vanish with its surroundings. Tall Tree and the Eye is a sculpture placed in the gardens of the Royal Academy of Arts. It is a 15 meter high tower made of stainless steel and is composed of 76 mirrored spheres interlocked with each other that create a continuous change, thanks to their reflections, but despite these components it seems to be weightless. Kapoor himself said that for its realization he was inspired by the words of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “It is a set of images that I have always loved in his sonnets to Orpheus and this work is, in a sense, a kind of eye that reflects images without end”.

Cloud Gate opened in 2006 at Millennium Park in Chicago. The work, built between 2004 and 2006, is nicknamed “The Bean” because of its bean shape. Consisting of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, its exterior is completely polished and has no seams of any kind. The design was inspired by liquid mercury. The surface reflects the surrounding city skyline, viewers are free to admire it even passing underneath since the height of the “omphalos” (from the Greek for “navel”) is a 3.7 meter high recess where the mirrored surface offers multiple reflections of any object placed beneath it. This work was chosen during a design competition.

Initially, there was a lot of concern about the technologies that could be used for the assembly, and even after that, further concerns arose about maintenance, such as the temperature variation between seasons and the fear that the structure could weaken. Graffiti, bird droppings and fingerprints were potential problems. Eventually, however, the work was built, albeit somewhat behind the estimated schedule. Cloud Gate was submitted incomplete in 2004 and then completed on May 15, 2006.

The mayor of Chicago decided that this date would be remembered as “Cloud Gate Day”. The public immediately accepted this sculpture also thanks to its nickname, so much so that the work has become an important monument of public art and is now a symbol of the city. Kapoor has made it known that his work should last around a thousand years. The maintenance has been entrusted to a company that cleans it by hand twice a day. It is also scheduled for a total cleaning every 40 years.


Anish Kapoor is also dedicated to architecture. Taratantara is an enormous double trumpet, 50 meters long, 35 meters wide and 35 meters high. Made of a red PVC tarpaulin, with a consistency similar to velvety rubber, it delimits and circumscribes a “physical and psychic place”, equipped with two openings that offers itself to multiple gazes, to infinite readings, to numerous analogies: it recalls a bridge, a tunnel, an enormous bow tie, a kite, a gigantic kaleidoscope. With rare poetic intensity Kapoor completely changes the face of the place where this work appears, with the techniques of “a painter who is a sculptor”. Temenos is the first sculpture for the Tees Valley Giants project (five enormous sculptures formed by a ring-shaped element and an ellipse-shaped one, about 50 meters high, joined by a network of steel cables 110 meters long) started in 2008 and was completed in 2010. The Temenos is located between the Middlesbrough Transporter bridge and Riverside Stadium. Its steel structure is 50 meters high and is supported by two poles that have a circular ring and an oval ring on top of them, all held together by an intertwining of steel wires. It is compared to a huge mosquito net. The cost of this work was approximately £2,700,000, while the total cost of the five circles is expected to be around £20 million.


Anish Kapoor together with engineer Cecil Balmond designed the construction of the new Olympic brazier that will be lit at the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London in 2012 and the Arcelor Mittal Orbit tower that will be inaugurated in May 2012. The tower was commissioned by London Mayor Boris Johnson and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell. 115 meters high, some have already dubbed it the “new Eiffel Tower”, while others – the British online architecture magazine Archinet – has dubbed it “London”s largest erection”. A red tower developed in a spiral reminiscent of the shape of DNA and enclosing the five Olympic circles.

The estimated cost is around £19 million, of which £16 million comes from Britain”s wealthy tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of the steel company ArcelorMittal the firm that produces the steel used for the construction, while the other £3 million comes from the London Development Agency. Both Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond speak of this construction as a radical advancement in architecture: combining sculpture and structural engineering, stability with instability. Visitors will walk inside a built-in walkway made to spiral. There has been no shortage of praise but also criticism of its bold design: it has been called a vanity project, a questionable use of public art.

An unfinished project that Anish Kapoor was supposed to realize in Italy is the Monte Sant”Angelo station of the Naples Metro. This project included not only the Monte Sant”Angelo station, but the entire railway link of Naples.The design of the station that should have been realized, maintains a plastic sensitivity that distinguishes Kapoor”s style. The idea, in fact, is to evoke, in an ironic way, the descent into the underworld, a basin that embraces the traveler accompanying him into the bowels of the earth. The entire work should have been made of Corten steel, a material that is well suited to the surrounding volcanic territory. The start of the project took place in 2003 but, due to lack of funds, it stopped leaving the station unfinished. Eduardo Cicelyn, director of the Museo d”arte contemporanea Donnaregina of Naples, sees in Kapoor the person who can continue the works changing however the project.

On February 27, 2004, five years after the Ministry”s green light, the Campania region entrusts Anish Kapoor with the artistic conception of the project. In November the sculptor signs the contract, the title of the project is “Art and Engineering”. Seven and a half months later, the project is finished, the works begin, but there is an immediate stop concerning the material to be used for the artist”s sculptures. In 2007 the works were interrupted due to a problem concerning the choice of the company that would be able to realize the two works. The technicians first asked Fincantieri, then companies in the United States and Germany and the Dutch Central Staal. The first work was started, the other remained stationary. The artist”s project included 12 meters of slabs to be joined together in order to have the work completed; however, technology allows a maximum of 4 meters of slabs to be worked on Corten steel, so until all the mathematical calculations for the resizing of the structure are redone, this project cannot be realized.

Anish Kapoor has designed for the Pollino National Park a work entitled “Earth Cinema”: an earth cinema, a “cut” dug into the earth (45 meters long) in which people can enter from both sides. Inside a long slit will allow people to “see” the extraordinary natural landscape, feeling part of it.


Other solo exhibitions of his work have been held:

His most famous works are collected in particular at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery, the Prada Foundation in Milan, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the De Pont Foundation in the Netherlands and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa.

Foreign honors


  1. Anish Kapoor
  2. Anish Kapoor
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