I was unfamiliar with Kapoor's work until this year when a cool and brilliant friend mentioned he was one of her favorite artists. Most people in the US are familiar with his large scale public work if they've heard of him. Kapoor's Cloud Gate in Millenium Park, Chicago has become a travel destination in its own right. The Time Magazine review of the exhibit seemed to dismiss Cloud Gate as a giant fun-house mirror that turns people into Silly Putty. I think this diminishes the power of Kapoor's work. It was interesting, because the review of the ICA's exhibit was overall very positive, calling it "indispensable."
At the first survey of the gallery space we were struck by the lovely, undulating work entitled S-Curve, from 2006 (click here for the ICA's slideshow of all of the works). There is a playful element to the piece, but it certainly transcends the fun-house mirror. Each viewer merges with the art, transforming it through the act of viewing while the rolling curves transform the shape and perceptions of the viewer. Gradually, we noticed the other sculptures too and how their reflections interacted with each other as we moved through the space. The New York Times review of the exhibition expresses the complexity of Kapoor's work perfectly by describing how "its formal conundrums and surface pleasures open subtly to deeper forms of thought."
The next object to captivate our attention was Brandy Wine (2007), a convex hemisphere of luminous, elemental crimson. My friend Judy pointed out that the closer you move to the sculpture, the more you feel enveloped by the top. The kittens were delighted to discover that the objects transform our perceptions of sound as well as images by amplifying and sending excited little whispers around the gallery space behind us.
As I stood in the gallery, I was reminded of Florence in 1989 when I went to hear Jazz in a tiny little club on the bank of the Arno river. We sat reverently enjoying the music but there was a group of listeners, musicians by the looks of them, who at certain junctures in the music would laugh and look at each other. Wasn't there even a comedy skit about that, and how it's perplexing for those of us who don't get the joke? After viewing Kapoor's untitled piece from 1998 I actually found myself laughing out loud and I finally felt like (albeit far geekier version) the cool jazz listener. The photo doesn't even begin to convey how the artist challenges our perceptions. I literally felt as though he was teasing us.
One of the misfortunate consequences of creating large scale public art is that our understanding of artistic merits is affected by the culture it lives within. Cloud Gate is affectionately known as the Bean and in most reviews I read, and it was often dismissed by virtue of its popularity. Perhaps this obscures our understanding of Kapoor's other works as well. This show is no fun-house, baby. This cat thought it was cooool, cool jazz.