Anish Kapoor at Le Grand Palais, Paris

by Peter Krasz, June 2011

Each year, MONUMENTA invites a prominent contemporary artist to appropriate the 13,500m2 of the Grand Palais nave with a site specific work. For 2011, they have commissioned Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor to create Leviathan, an aesthetic and sensorial playground, which explores concepts so vast and ranging as space, corporality and memory. The organic amoeba-like conjoining of spheres accounts for a monumental installation of, as described by the artist, a single object, a single shape and a single color.

Kapoor’s recent work increasingly blurs the limits between architecture and art. This organic form invites the viewer to enter a space within a space, to move through it and to experience both its interior and exterior surfaces. The interior sets the viewer within a room clad in translucent red, where the exterior light  casts the ironwork of the Grand Palais metal skeleton on its walls, creating a vaulted cathedral in red. Not unlike the intended effect of religious architecture,  the viewer is immersed in a contemplative and poetic space, a womb-like interior where thoughts and sensations of our origins arise. It allows a bodily memory to form in the act of looking: As the all-encompassing monochromatic red removes any exterior distractions, the viewer is forced to turn the gaze inwards, to himself.

Leviathan summarizes two key characteristics in Anish Kapoor’s work: the pure and undiluted use of a single color, and an interest in the sublime. The latter he achieves by sheer force of scale, the immersive quality of his work and the emotional responses the combination of these can elicit. Here he creates creates an organic or mental echo that powerfully hearkens back to latent memories of our beginnings—biological and biblical. Like the eponymous biblical sea-monster, Kapoor’s Leviathan embodies a sense of concealed force. Leviathan opens the door to the antechamber of our animal nature, transporting us back to our innermost, timeless selves.

The sculpture’s exterior is no less evocative, setting the viewer against a single enormous volume with dark skin. The viewer is forced to situate his or her person in relation to the object and the space that contains it, a negotiation between the body, human-scale, and the grand vastness of Leviathan and the Palais. Passing from the enclosed interior’s pensive calm, translucent color and play of light to the exterior the viewer is faced with its solid, impenetrable skin. The allusion to skin is an indispensable element in understanding this work. Aside from creating an obvious barrier that demarcates interior and exterior spaces, the meticulous attention to texture, one that replicates organic and bodily characteristics, is what lends the work its biological connotation and consequently, its powerful life-force.

Anish Kapoor: Leviathan
11 May—23 June 2011
Le Grand Palais
Avenue Winston Churchill, Paris