The illusionist

By GREG COOK  |  June 6, 2008

“Past, Present, Future” opens with a splash: S-Curve (2006), a 32-foot-long wall of steel polished to a mirror finish and bent into its namesake shape. Kapoor’s work looks like nothing in reproduction; you have to experience it in person to get it. S-Curve shifts from convex to concave along its length, squashing and stretching your reflection as you walk by. The reflected floor seems to puddle up, until it flips open and unspools.

Brandy Wine and Hexagon Mirror (both 2007) look like giant mirrored concave contact lenses stuck to the gallery wall. Brandy Wine is smooth and red; Hexagon Mirror is made up of hundreds of little hexagonal mirrors that reflect back a bug-eye view of the world. From a distance they reflect the room upside down, dark across the top half, light at bottom. But as you get close, the reflection flips and warps and magnifies. And your eyes flip out.

In other works, Kapoor plays with simple ancient forms and mythic symbols: navels, body orifices, air, water, metal, stone, egg, outer-space vacuum. Red equals blood; blue equals sky. The sculptures are often fabricated with an otherworldly seamless perfection, as if crafted by God or aliens.

From across the room, My Body Your Body (1993) looks like a flat velvety ultramarine-blue rectangle embedded in the gallery wall, and Iris (1998) resembles a flat swirly mirrored disc, perhaps some sort of lens or the view down a gun barrel from a James Bond intro. But as you near them, they open up and you realize they’re receding into the wall. Seen head on, My Body Your Body is an unfathomable narrowing black hole (the monochrome blue surface camouflages spatial shifts), but step to either side and you can make out the edge of the curved walls flowing into darkness. If you play along, you can imagine it’s another one of those sci-fi interdimensional portals with a vacuum pull. Iris’s mirrored walls ripple into the distance, but standing right before it you can see the dead-end back of it. As you decipher the visual trickery, the piece goes flat.

When they work, part of the sexy charge of these sculptures comes from the way they recall orifices — looking at them is like gazing into some cosmic anus or vagina. Lady parts are more directly referred to in a work like Marsupial (2006), a shiny wall of lavender resin with a hole on one side that is revealed to be a pouch on the other. The title refers to a mama marsupial’s pouch for its developing baby. If you peer inside, bits of light reflect out of the darkness, and somewhere nestled way at the back is a little apparition of yourself, flipped upside down.

When I Am Pregnant (1992) is often almost invisible, just an odd shadow, an optical disturbance on a long empty white gallery wall. You can’t quite focus on it. It’s only in profile that the white rounded protrusion really shows up.

The best piece here is an untitled 1998 white fiberglass sculpture. From one side it looks like a giant egg; from the other, it resembles a large bean with a rectangle window cut out of its side. Inside, you see what seems to be a hallucination — an amorphous, edgeless whiteness. Artist James Turrell has gotten much mileage out of this sort of optical illusion (you may recall his mesmerizing mysterious red void New Light, which was part of the ICA’s 2006 opening show, “Super Vision”); Kapoor makes striking use of it here. The inside seems bigger than the outside, like some great foggy womb.

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Related: Kapoor speaks, Styrofoam sorcery, A certain kind of disorientation, More more >
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