One of the most influential sculptors of his generation, Anish Kapoor is widely recognised for his monumental public works and installations that often incorporate reflective surfaces and curvature as well as unconventional sculptural mediums like water. A preoccupation with voids, the body and the relationship between man and his surrounding environment further characterise his works.
Emerging as a sculptor in the 1980s, Kapoor's use of pure pigment and traditional materials such as limestone and wood aligned him with a group of young artists—among them Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Antony Gormley and Shirazeh Houshiary—known as the New British Sculptors. Kapoor gained recognition for his biomorphic works, notably As if to celebrate, I discovered a mountain blooming with red flowers (1981). Created for the exhibition British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century. Part 2: Symbol and Imagination 1951–1980 (1981–2) at London's Whitechapel Gallery, the sculpture consists of three groups of geometric forms made from wood, cement and polystyrene, and covered in pure pigment that spills over the floor. Each shape references the human physique: the three-peaked mountain in red as the body; the pair of red ellipsoids as breasts; while the boat-like form, the only yellow object of the group, suggests movement. Kapoor derived the first part of the title, 'As if to celebrate', from a Haiku poem, and the rest came from a Hindu myth in which a goddess is born out of a mountain of male gods' bodies. Several of his early sculptures, seemingly rising out of the floor or wall and coated with saturated pigments, underscore his preoccupation with blood and female anatomy.
In the following decade, Kapoor's sculptures progressively grew as he began to explore the idea of the void by constructing forms that contain cavities or disappear into the floor or wall. In the sculpture Void Field (1989)—presented at the 44th Venice Biennale and for which he was awarded the Premio Duemila Prize—the top surfaces of sandstone blocks are pierced with a hole and filled with black pigment. Contrasting the mass of the blocks with the voids within them, Kapoor explored the tensions between presence and absence, being and non-being, and internal space and darkness. Kapoor later multiplied the scale of the void with Marsyas (2002)—commissioned for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern—by creating a hollow, trumpet-like structure out of red plastic membrane that extended over the monumental gallery space.
From the mid-1990s onwards, Kapoor increasingly used mirrored surfaces in his works, as in the three concave, stainless steel discs of Her Blood (1998), which are presented on the floor or on the wall and reflect their environment from different angles. A later work such as Blood Mirror (2000) similarly consists of a stainless disc, featuring red in its lacquered and highly polished surface. The simple concave shape in both works appears to be a void from a distance and becomes activated when the spectator steps closer to it, contorting reality to subvert his or her sense of perception.
Throughout Kapoor's works, there exists a sense of theatricality—one that requires audience participation to complete its experience. In conversation with Ocula Magazine in 2016, Kapoor said, 'There is something about the performative in a work, where the work almost switches itself on as you enter its space. I think it's terribly important because that's a conversation between a viewer and an object.' Enacting this performativity is his 'Non-Object' series of 'twisted' stainless steel sculptures that invite the spectator to walk around them and study the constantly morphing reflections. Similarly, Ishi's Light (2003)—an ovoid shell with a fibreglass exterior and a lacquered red interior—opens partially to allow the spectator into its space. The concave forms in both 'Non-Objects' and Ishi's Light seek to engage the participant's senses both optically by projecting distorted reflections and aurally by amplifying sound within their parameters.
Kapoor's public sculptures are celebrated for their monumental sizes and spectacular feats of design and engineering. In 2014, he created Descension, commissioned by the Public Art Fund for the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, an unconventional sculpture made of infinitely swirling water. Like many of his other works, Descension provides an aural experience as the water spiralled in and out of the ground. ArcelorMittal Orbit—completed in 2012 for London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park—has become one of London's most popular attractions for its view of the city from the 115-metre-tall tower made of red tubular steel. Cloud Gate (2004)—dedicated to Chicago's Millennium Park in 2006—exemplifies Kapoor's brand of spectacle through simple forms. The 110-ton stainless steel sculpture, nicknamed 'the Bean' for its resemblance to an upturned bean, enchants the public with its seamless surface that draws both the spectator and the environment in to become a part of its perpetually shifting reflections.
Born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, Kapoor has been living and working in London since the early 1970s, where he studied at Hornsey College of Art (1973–77) and Chelsea College of Arts (1977–78). A Turner Prize winner (1991), Kapoor has recently exhibited at Lisson Gallery, London (2017); Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2016); Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City (2016); Château de Versailles (2015); Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2010); and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2008). Selected international group exhibitions include Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2014); 3rd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2009); Gwangju Biennale (2004); Shanghai Biennale (2001); Biennale de Lyon (2000); and Venice Biennale (1993, 1990, 1982). In 2009 he was the first living artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Elected a Royal Academician in 1999, Kapoor was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2003 and knighted in 2013 for his services to visual arts.