Executed in 2003.
Executed in 2003, Anish Kapoor's stunning Untitled embodies the pioneering manipulation of space and material that characterises the very best output of this world-renowned sculptor. The largest of his alabaster works and first the double-concave piece to come to auction, its sheer magnitude marks it apart as a sculptural phenomenon that evokes the grandeur of a feat of nature. Contrasting to the immensity of the marble, two beautiful hollows have been carved to mirror each other either side of the monolith, creating a spatial echo across a screen of alabaster so thin that light glows through from either side. Thus while the work's scale is truly inspirational, addressing the viewer at eye-level and engaging total bodily experience, the colossus is also imbued with a serene weightlessness. The double-concave also necessitates the sculpture's circumnavigation by the viewer, which affords the cyclical experience of encountering alternating polished and rough surfaces. It provokes primal physical and psychological responses, invites profound cerebral and spiritual discourse, and exports awe via its sublimely beautiful form. Finally, it manifests dualities that have become synonymous with Kapoor's seminal canon: presence versus absence; infinity versus illusion; and solidity versus intangibility.
The negative spaces of Untitled initially appear to consist of concave segments of an invisible sphere. However, in both cases the stone actually embraces the greater part of an elliptical void whereby the extremities of the cavity recede internally out of view, screened by a tapered curtain of alabaster. Consequently it is impossible to comprehend the entire negative spaces from any point outside the circular aperture, and a moving viewpoint shifts the relative dimensions of the internal voids dramatically. Thus the curved discs, visible through the openings, seem to float in the middle of the sculpture, apparently locked in space at the mineral core. For both sides of the stone an ellipse - which is itself etymologically derived from the Greek for absence - creates a shimmering spatial indeterminacy that posits dynamism at the heart of the monolith.
In addition to pushing the means of sculptural material, this work is also central to Kapoor's interrogation of sculpting space: "The void is not silent. I have always thought of it more and more as a transitional space, an in-between space...for that very first moment of creativity where everything is possible and nothing has actually happened" (the artist in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Anish Kapoor, pp. 35-36). With Untitled he seeks to identify this seed of genesis within the void, negotiating the territory between space and absence with a reflected double negative. This generative effect of negative space has been deftly explicated by Jacques Lacan: "at a given moment one arrives at illusion...that point concerns the notion that the illusion of space is different from the creation of emptiness" (Jacques Lacan in Jacques-Alain Miller, Ed., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book VII - The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960, New York 1986, p. 140).
In Kapoor's sculpture and perfectly captured in the present work, the illusion of space is indeed very different from the creation of emptiness.
Kapoor, together with the Italian art dealer Massimo Minini had toured excavation opportunities in Brescia, Carrara and Volterra for suitable raw material. Minini recalls how anguished Kapoor had been to find that alabaster, once the vehicle of sacrosanct statuary and venerable agent of sacred ornamentation, was now exploited for mass-produced tat, chess sets and ashtrays. Alabaster, derived of calcium, is very soft and Kapoor's manipulation of this ancient material continues a tradition arching over hundreds of years, which of course soared to its apogee during the Italian Renaissance.
The distinction between the roughly hewn exterior of the rock, wearing the scars of its wrenching from the quarry, and the polished recesses precipitates a powerful dialogue between presence and solidity versus absence and intangibility. The polarised contrast between the surfaces intensifies their individual textural identities: the rough-hewn exterior adds to the purity of the interior. As the sharp geometric shape is fixed within the crass mineral casing Kapoor's minimalism is revealed: it is neither machine-made, nor does it reveal the artist's touch, but rather presents itself as an artistic fact.
Kapoor has identified that "There is a history in the stone and through this simple device of excavating the stone it's just as if a whole narrative sequence is suddenly there" (the artist interviewed by Homi K. Bhabha, in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Anish Kapoor, 1998, p. 27). While the translucent depths and crystalline veins of Untitled's translucent stone evidence the history of its epic formation in the earth's crust, its polished surfaces and geometric forms narrate its transformation into sculpture. This echoes Kapoor's explanation that "at the end of the process...the stone becomes something else, becomes light, becomes a proposition, becomes a lens" (Ibid, p. 29). Indeed, the two complimentary hollows of Untitled are reminiscent of an actual lens forged in space and this sculpture provides a beautiful and significant précis of Kapoor's devotion to pure material.
It is important that Kapoor has here chosen the circle as the window to his elliptical negatives as the circular offers continuity and concisely answers his question "How does one make a full horizon?" (the artist interviewed by Donna De Salvo, June 2002, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Bregenz, Kunsthaus, Anish Kapoor: My Red Homeland, 2003, p. 63). In his 'Void' works such as Madonna and Mother as a Void (both 1989-90), which have circular apertures well in excess of six feet, vast pigmented concaves facilitate an all-embracing, or ganzfeld sensation. By contrast, Untitled's concavities reside within a structure, rather than comprising the whole structure itself. Nevertheless, in keeping with his earlier Mirror works, this sculpture proposes a new relationship with the viewer, involving us physically and changing the way we interact with sculpture.
According to Germano Celant, the spherical void also connotes pregnancy: "the circle is also the uterus, the holy enclosure, locus of the Great Mother, primary element of creation and reproduction" (Germano Celant, Anish Kapoor, London 1996, p. xxxv). Clearly Untitled is not figurative, but it certainly evokes those themes of birth and cyclical regeneration that continually reappear in Kapoor's output. Elevated so as to meet the viewer at eye-level, Untitled exemplifies Kapoor's notion that the cycle of an artwork is only completed by the role of the beholder, and that events in the viewer's experience become events in the work. This again invokes the concept of a circle, equally enlisting both work and beholder: "resonance that's in that stone is something that is resident in you already...It's not a verbal connection, but a bodily one. That's why sculpture occupies the same space as your body" (the artist interviewed by John Tusa, BBC Radio 3, 6υth July 2003).
In sum, Untitled proves the incarnation of Kapoor's artistic dialectic. It is a truly sublime artwork whose spiritual enterprise finds a subtly differing ontological response in every viewer. For Kapoor, recognition of a certain spirituality is key to his working process, and for him art has assumed an almost religious purpose. In an era witnessing widespread disillusionment with traditional belief systems, Untitled posits a spiritual universality that is truly accessible: in Celant's phrase "To allow for the epiphanic reabsorption of the human by the divine" (Germano Celant, Op Cit, p. xxx). Coming out of the ubiquitous colour saturation of earlier works, Untitled announces the vitality of the chaste stone itself. Kapoor invests the void with identity, and in so doing creates the spiritual manifestation of infinite potentiality.