‘To allow for the epiphanic re-absorption of the human by the divine, these works turn the void outward. The enormous mass of blue, and the object’s concave shape, create a kind of vertical abyss, capturing energy and pulling in the observer’s gaze, if not his entire body’
‘... concave mirror space is in front of the picture plane and it is a new kind of space and a new sublime ... A modern sublime, a “now” sublime, a “here” sublime’
With its deep blue surface polished to perfection, Anish Kapoor’s Untitled lures the viewer into its otherworldly depths. Executed in 2008, it is a majestic example of the reflective concave mirrors that lie at the heart of his sculptural practice. Peering into the vast cavity of the sculpture, our perceptual faculties are temporarily suspended. Every slight movement is registered, reflected and magnified in its lacquered exterior, destabilising reality to the point of sublimation. ‘The interesting thing about a polished surface to me,’ Kapoor has explained, ‘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’ (A. Kapoor, quoted in Anish Kapoor, exh. cat. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 2008, p. 53). Untitled operates as an existential portal: a strange meeting point between the immaterial and material worlds, in which we are brought face to face with the deep, resonant void. Its immersive scale and intense chromatic impregnation bring about a kind of transfiguration, throwing the viewer’s physical presence into stark relief. In our encounter with interminable nothingness, all sense of self dissolves. ‘To allow for the epiphanic reabsorption of the human by the divine, these works turn the void outward’, writes Germano Celant. ‘The enormous mass of blue, and the object’s concave shape, create a kind of vertical abyss, capturing energy and pulling in the observer’s gaze, if not his entire body’ (G. Celant, Anish Kapoor, Milan 1998, p. 30).
Kapoor has spoken of his debt to Romantic artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, who sought to capture moments of spiritual awe in their art. While they sought the sublime in the splendour of landscapes, however, Kapoor’s art explores interior, emotional terrains. Rather than mediating through a representation of a person or a place, his work aspires to directly provoke the transformative experience of the sublime. Like the protagonist of Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) gazing over rocky clifftops to the swirling mists beneath, the viewer of Untitled is made conscious of themselves standing on the precipice of an unknowable abyss. ‘I have worked with concave mirror space for twenty years now because concave mirror space is in front of the picture plane and it is a new kind of space and a new sublime’, explains Kapoor. ‘A modern sublime, a “now” sublime, a “here” sublime’ (A. Kapoor in D. de Salvo, ‘Anish Kapoor in Conversation’, in D. Anfam (ed.), Anish Kapoor, London 2012, p. 403). Deeply influenced by Eastern mysticism as well as his Romantic forebears, Kapoor’s concave mirrors may be seen to evoke the veil of Maya – the permeable screen-like surface of phenomenal reality on which the fleeting illusions of life are said to appear, like images at the cinema. The artist similarly invokes the Hindu notion of svayambh or the ‘self-made’ object, capable of producing independent meaning through its interaction with the environment. ‘The traditional sublime is the matte surface, deep and absorbing, and [the] shiny might be a modern sublime, which is fully reflective, absolutely present, and returns the gaze’, Kapoor has stated. ‘... My aim is to separate the object from its object-hood’ (A. Kapoor, quoted in H. Reitmaier, ‘Anish Kapoor in conversation with Heidi Reitmaier’, Tate Magazine, July 2007).