Anish Kapoor
Biography of Contemporary British Sculptor.

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Anish Kapoor (b.1954)

The Indian-born artist Anish Kapoor is one of several highly-acclaimed 20th century sculptors on the contemporary British scene. He moved to England early in his career and worked initially with lightweight materials, like wood and mixed-media, coloured with powdered pigments, before attracting international recognition in the 1980s with his large scale works, with which he won the Turner Prize in 1991. These larger strange-looking sculptures are made from steel, fiberglass or stone, and can be gigantic in size. One of the most successful postmodernist artists of his generation, he is best known for his site-specific abstract sculpture, like Cloud Gate (2004, Stainless steel, Millennium Park, Chicago) and Marsyas (2002, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern).

• For earlier works, see also: Modern British Sculpture 1930-70.
• For a list of modern sculptors like Anish Kapoor, see: Modern Artists.

Cloud Gate (2004), Chicago.

For more about the top
British postmodernist artists,
see: Turner Prize Winners.

Anthony Caro (1924-2013)
Jean Tinguely (1925-1991)
Duane Hanson (1925-96)
Donald Judd (1928-94)
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007)
Claes Oldenburg (b.1929)
Mark Di Suvero (b.1933)
Bruce Naumann (b.1941)
John De Andrea (b.1941)
Antony Gormley (b.1950)
Damien Hirst (b.1965)

See: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Early Life

Kapoor was born in Bombay, India. He moved to London in 1972 where he trained as an artist at Hornsey College of Art and Chelsea School of Art & Design. Afterwards, he travelled to India, which reawakened cultural memories. A balance of East and Western culture has become an integral part of Kapoor's works ever since. Kapoor's first sculptures were abstract objects made from wood and other materials. He often covered the sculptures in powdered colours from India which were traditionally used for celebratory occasions, thus obscuring the original materials. He set the sculptures on floors and walls, and they appeared both new and timeless.

For a list of the world's most
talented 3-D artists, see:
Greatest Sculptors.

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Then during the latter half of the 1980s he moved into a ground floor studio capable of handling heavy materials, and began working on a larger scale - typically producing rough stone blocks or smooth organic forms in cast metal. Often compared to Jeff Koons and Richard Serra, Kapoor's larger than life creations defy easy categorisation. Most often his aim is to engage the viewer, to provoke a reaction through the simplicity and beauty of his work. His later sculptures also relied on stone, but more recently he has turned to reflective mirror-like materials. He also uses red wax in some installations, evoking the appearance of blood.

Sculptures and Site-Specific Installations

Kapoor has produced a large number of works including Taratantara (1999, Baltic Flour Mills in Gateshead, England), a 35-metre tall piece; and Marsyas (2002) a gigantic work of steel and PVC that was installed in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern Gallery in London (see below). He also created a stone arch which is permanently placed on the shore of a lake in Lødingen in northern Norway. In 2000, one of the artist’s works, Parabolic Waters, consisting of rapidly rotating coloured water, was shown outside the Millennium Dome in London. In 2001, Sky Mirror, a large mirror work which reflected the sky and environment was commissioned in Nottingham. In 2006, another version of Sky Mirror was displayed in the Rockefeller Center, New York. Throughout his career, Kapoor has worked with engineers and architects, and insists that his work is neither pure sculpture nor pure architecture. Instead he says 'they are all about a certain kind of religious space'.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate contemporary sculptors like Anish Kapoor, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier 3-D works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.


Marsyas Sculpture (2002)

This sculpture was unveiled in 2002 in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern Gallery. It comprised 3 steel rings joined together by a single span of PVC membrane. Two rings are positioned vertically opposite each other, while a third is suspended parallel with the bridge. The geometry generated by the rigid steel structures determines the overall form of the sculpture, shifting the vertical to horizontal and back to vertical again. Kapoor began the project in 2002, when he soon realised that the only way he could challenge the daunting height of the Turbine Hall was to use it's length. Over many months he explored the potential of the design through a series of drawings and sculptural maquettes. The relationship between viewer and human scale was central to the thinking behind the work. The PVC membrane has a fleshy quality, which Kapoor describes as being 'rather like a flayed skin'. It is impossible to view the sculpture from one angle, one needs to walk around it, to experience the construction as a whole.

Cloud Gate: Millennium Park Sculpture (2004)

This was Kapoor's first American site-specific sculpture unveiled in 2004. The 110-ton sculpture is based at Millennium Park in Chicago. It is forged from a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates. It forms an elliptical arched, highly reflected work which reflects Chicago's skyline. Visitors are able to appreciate its majesty by working through and around it. Inspired by the look of liquid mercury, the sculpture is one of the largest in the world and measures 33-feet in height and 66-feet in width. The work was installed on Millennium Parks SBC Plaza. Kapoor wrote about the sculpture: "What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline... so that one sees the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one's reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around".

Memory Steel sculpture, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2008)

With the inauguration of the Guggenheim Berlin in 1997, the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation and Deutsche Bank launched a program of contemporary art commissions. Anish Kapoor's Memory was the 14th commission project to be completed since the program started. Memory (2008) is a site-specific work that was conceived to work between two different exhibition locations, the Guggenheim museums in Berlin and New York. Using Cor-Ten steel, Memory's thin skin is only 8 mm thick, suggesting an ephemeral form. The 24-ton sculpture appears to defy gravity as it hangs from the gallery walls and ceiling. Wedged tightly within artificial walls, Memory is never fully exposed to the viewer. Instead you are required to navigate the museum, in search of vantage points. This way the viewer is required to piece together the fragments into one, from their own memory, a process the artist describes as 'mental sculpture'. Some vantage points offer a 2 dimensional plane that can be read as a painting. Kapoor’s interest in this pictorial effect was best reflected in his statement 'I am a painter working as a sculptor.'


One of the most celebrated abstract sculptors in British postmodernist art, Kapoor has had solo exhibitions in international venues including the Kunsthalle Basel, Tate Modern and Hayward Gallery in London, Reina Sofia in Madrid and CAPC in Bordeaux. He has also participated in group shows at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, The Royal Academy and Serpentine Gallery in London; Documenta IX in Kassel, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and the French Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. His work is on display in a number of the best art museums and cultural institutions including: Museum of Contemporary Art in Prato, Italy; Musee St. Pierre, Lyon; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. His work is collected by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Modern, London, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the De Pont Foundation in Holland and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan. See also: Contemporary British Painting (1960-2000).

Kapoor represented Britain at the 1990 Venice Biennale and won the Premio Duemila with his work. In 1991 he won the prestigious Turner Prize. In 2010 he began work on the £2.7m public art work called Temenos in collaboration with Cecil Balmond. The sculpture is to be placed near Middlesbrough's Transporter Bridge, UK.

• For more about the history and styles of plastic art, see: Homepage.
• For more about contemporary sculpture, see: Contemporary Art.

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