Interview with Anish Kapoor: “I haven’t done much at all”

Despite having tackled some of the most ambitious commissions in contemporary art, such as Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, the Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor says “the problems in the end are always in the studio”


The sculptures of Anish Kapoor have recently been seen in public spaces, in Chicago, New York and Naples. Drawing on metaphysical theories and ideas of the sublime and often on a massive scale, they challenge audiences to consider their perceptions of the world via reflecting surfaces and darkened cavities. In 2002 he filled the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern with one of the gallery’s most ambitious installations ever, Marsyas, a giant, red, trumpet-like work which filled the 150-metre-long space, literally forcing visitors to step around it to enter the gallery.

This month the artist’s work goes on show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in his first US museum survey in more than 15 years. An exhibition of new sculptures also opens at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York.

The Art Newspaper: You recently said you hated public art and yet you are producing several examples of it these days. What do you dislike about it?

Anish Kapoor: Public projects are an enormous negotiation and they are never straightforward. The role of good public art is to engage with fundamental things. Outdoors, it’s the earth and sky in some experiential way.

TAN: Your model for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, Sky Plinth, has been shortlisted for the space. What do you make of the proposal, approved by mayoral candidate Boris Johnson, that the plinth be used for a permanent statue of World War II RAF commander Sir Keith Park? [As we went to press the election for London’s mayor was due to be held on 1 May.]

AK: He’s a fool. He hasn’t the faintest idea and he ought to keep his mouth shut.

TAN: Can you describe your collaboration with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron for a new residential building in New York?

AK: It’s a work in which the building and the object are completely related to each other. I suggested to Jacques [Herzog] that putting a sculpture outside the building or in the lobby would be much less interesting than something that infiltrated the architecture. It can be crudely described as a kind of bulge that pushes up the building, and seems to prop it up.

TAN: Some of your work seems to straddle the fields of art and architecture, at least in terms of physical scale, and in the case of the subway station in Naples that you’re designing with the architects Future Systems. How does your work parallel that of architecture?

AK: What Future Systems and I have done on the subway in Naples is to make two works of sculpture that the public must enter or exit through. What I wanted to do in the city of Mount Vesuvius and Dante’s mythical entrance to the underworld, is to acknowledge that you are going underground. I want the riders to experience a kind of vertigo, like falling into the interior of the earth.

TAN: How has the reception of Indian art changed recently given the success of artists like Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Jitish Kallat and T.V. Santosh?

AK: It’s been a long time coming. Between India and China there are two billion people who represent one-third of the population of the world. As far as India goes, it’s taken 50 years of independence from Britain for artists to free themselves from making a type of mythical beast, which is called “Indian art”. In the past Indian art was labelled exotic and derivative, which is a very problematic, deeply inaccurate, touristic view. What’s interesting about the younger generation is that their forum seems to be global and their engagement seems to be with themselves as artists, rather than with a half-understood concept of what it means to be Indian.

TAN: How has your work been received in India; are you perceived as a Western artist there?

AK: I’m Indian but I have never done a show in India, although there are a couple of things being planned now. Within the past 20 years I have been perceived as a Western artist in India, while in the UK I’ve been seen as a British artist, but mostly as an Indian artist.

TAN: The title of one of your most recent works, Svayambh, refers to your connection to India. Do you think you’re giving yourself more latitude to make connections to your heritage?

AK: I have always made references to India in my work, but I do think the atmosphere has changed. My concern is to be an artist and not to be an Indian artist. In the early 1980s when I first started showing art there where very few artists on the international scene who were not of European origin. I came along and made work solely of pigment, which had the potential of being read as deeply exotic. What I did was to say, I just invented something and for you to attribute it to my Indian origins is to rob me of my creativity, so desist. I’ve been carrying on about it for a very long time, because I feel the exotic doesn’t allow for seriousness.

TAN: What do you feel you haven’t attempted and would like to try?

AK: I haven’t done much at all yet. The problems in the end are always in the studio. An artist without an inner life is not an artist at all. Without the time to properly reflect on oneself, all the rest is just bubbles.

TAN: Tell us about your exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

AK: The show is a view of my work over the past 20 years or so, and is quasi-representative of the various phases of my career. I would characterise it as more of a survey than a retrospective.

TAN: And your new work at Barbara Gladstone?

AK: I’m showing about 15 works in total. Barbara is opening a second space in May, so my work will be at both galleries. In the older space, I’m showing five to six works which relate to a more visceral and expressive side of my endeavour, and at the new space there are a series of unitary objects made of stainless steel. Gallery shows have become much more like museum exhibitions with these new gallery spaces.