Viewing the Emergent City and Its People

anish kapoor: monumenta 2011 – leviathan

Sculpture as urban intervention or environment from designboom


image © designboom

monumenta 2011
‘leviathan’ by anish kapoor
grand palais, paris
may 11 to june 23rd, 2011

each year the french ministry of culture and communication invites a leading artist to create a work that responds to the exceptional architectural space of the grand palais in paris. the sheer monumental scale of the building provided the inspiration for a big idea: monumenta. this year, indian-born, british-based artist anish kapoor created a temporary, site-specific installation inside the nave of the glass-domed hall. the space was originally unveiled at the 1900 universal exhibition. for its fourth edition, after guest artists anselm kiefer, richard serra and christian boltanski, it has been the turn of anish kapoor to meet the challenge with a brand new work for the 13,500 m2 space.

‘it has been a slow process. it seems to me that I’ve been working on it since almost 20 years.
now it is here. we did it.’
says anish kapoor in an interview with designboom.
‘the sculpture is a total immersion in an unexplored physical and mental dimension. once you are inside,
in the giant 4-armed balloon, the involuted form  reminds you of an organic outer space and inner self at
the same time — but when you travel outside of it (once you are back in the space of the grand palais),
I hope the viewer has another encounter with the piece and with the luminosity thrown down by the glass roof.’


image © designboom

visitors to the grand palais will first use a revolving door to enter inside ‘the belly of the beast’.
a four-chamber balloon, bathed in red light, which the artist says he hopes has a cathedral-like quality.


‘it is a building of extraordinary scale. the difficulty of the space is its scale – when you are inside and enclosed, it’s almost bigger than being outside! somehow one has to deal with this volume, which is both horizontal and vertical. the verticality is the problem, and the light is what makes the verticality a challenge.’

anish kapoor


image © designboom

once you enter the second part of the exhibition, the exterior of the sculpture appears to bear no relation to the interior.
they co-exist simultaneously. ‘that’s what the work is about,’ says anish kapoor.

‘I think there is no such thing as an innocent viewer. all viewing, all looking comes with complications, comes with previous histories,
a more or less real past. abstract art and sculpture in particular, has to deal with this idea that the viewer comes with his body, and
of course memory. memory and body come together in the act of looking. I’m really interested in what happens to meaning in that process:
as memory and body walk through, take the passage through any given work, something happens, something changes.’
anish kapoor


image © designboom

anish kapoor is a perfectionist and had to overcome lots of ‘technical’ problems.
to cope with the light which floods through the palais’ glass ceilings he chose a very dark membrane.
the mock-ups were not at all satisfying – the artist had previously experienced some problems of inflating the smaller size models accurately.
he did not know how this would look like on a giant scale until the work was erected. his crew took a week to install the work.
there are no wrinkles!‘ he told us excited.

anish kapoor’s artwork celebrates neither permanence nor eternity, but instead the transitive, fugitive nature of instants.
‘it is a single object, a single shape, a single colour. the dense red reminds us of the colours we see in our eyes at night –
unstable and monochrome – red creates much more sombre shadows, psychologically and physically, than black or blue.’


image © designboom
‘the grand palais is one of those remarkable spaces in the world, a vast volume full of light, and has its own beauty. to make a work in it,
one has to deal with all of that, especially the light. I want the viewer to have a moment of shock, aesthetically but also physically, so that
when you enter the nave you raise your eyes and say: 
‘wow! could it be like that!’
‘each artwork is above all an event’.


image © designboom


people inside the the red-colored, globulous ‘balloon’
image © designboom


the vaulted greenhouse-like roof and looping art nouveau balconies of the the grand palais and kapoor’s sculpture
image © designboom


image © designboom


the play with such an overwhelming scale in a cathedral-like context
image © designboom


the purple rubber biest
image © designboom


anish kapoor
image © designboom


anish kapoor
portrait © designboom

video from the press conference, anish kapoor speaks to international team of invited guests.

(due to the very low light conditions inside the sculpture, and the fact that we were not allowed to use additional light equipment, the video is slightly blurred. sorry for that.)

kapoor stated that the work’s title ‘leviathan’, was related to the 17th century philosopher thomas hobbes’s book,
published in 1651 (entitled after the biblical sea monster leviathan), but at the same time he advised against over-literal interpretations.


with this exhibition, he calls for museums to close for a day in protest at detention of artist ai weiwei in china.

‘as a colleague – I don’t know him personally – I feel that as artists we have a communal voice and it’s important that we stick together,
that we have a sense of solidarity with each other,’
 anish kapoor said.
‘it would be nice to see the art world come together a little more.
perhaps all museums and galleries should be closed for a day across the world.
I think some such campaign needs to form itself.’

the event is an initiative of the french ministry of culture and communication (direction générale de la création artistique) and is
co-produced by the centre national des arts plastiques (cnap), the grand palais and the réunion des musées nationaux.
commissioner: jean de loisy. the cost of this exhibition is estimated around euro 3m.

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