Kapoor’s Memory (2008)

It has been said of Anish Kapoor's Memory that it "resists interpretation" as though its meaning is so obscure that the critics themselves can be excused for not explaining it clearly. For example, when Memory was installed in Deutsche Guggenheim (below) in 2008, the curator's valid observations did not coalesce into a valid interpretation. Like many critics today she left responsibility for interpretation to the individual viewer, focusing on physical characteristics and their de-stabilizing effect on the viewer's perception. (See her explanation below.)1 Although correctly noting that the work's varying perspectives create a fragmentary effect, the fragmentation is no greater than in a Cubist painting or the fabric of an early Renaissance altarpiece. Fragmentation has long been a common feature of art because it is the nature of mental activity. As I continue to reveal on the site, mental activity and its fragmentation have been the subject of art since at least the 1300's. Despite the position of modern scholars fragmentation is not new. Kapoor, I should add, outspokenly supports universal explanations of art against limiting, culturally specific ones.2 

To my mind, Memory depicts Kapoor's. That may be why Kapoor confusingly describes Memory as "a negative internal space larger than a positive exterior space" The former suggests the location of his mind; the latter the gallery.3 Excessively large, appearing cramped in a sizeable room, Kapoor's Memory is also reminiscent of Michelangelo's Dream of Human Life and its depiction of memory, an unlikely coincidence.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Kapoor, Memory (2008) Corten steel. Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin

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As I explain elsewhere, Michelangelo's celebrated drawing depicts the angel breaking through the crack in the artist's skull as the soul was thought to do at birth. True artists will always see this. The smaller figures are forms (or ideas) in Michelangelo's mind while the box, unrecognized by art scholars, represents what Michelangelo described as "my memory-box."4

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Captions for image(s) above:

Michelangelo, Sogno or The Dream of Human Life (1533-34?) Black chalk. Courtauld Gallery, London.

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What, then, does Kapoor's object represent? As Daniel Miller describes it Memory "presents three discrete and non-synchronous faces to museum visitors: the first snub-nosed and sheer; the second conical and rocket-shaped; the third a yawning mouth leading into the structure’s interior." There are, of course, multiple associations but while some are difficult to pin down others are more precise. Miller, for instance, rightly described it as looking like "an unexploded bomb".5

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Captions for image(s) above:

Kapoor, Memory (2008)

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Seen from this side the oval lines probably represent the artist's inner eye (like Michelangelo's large ball in the drawing.) Straight one end, rounded the other, it also resembles the artist's thumb, its eye-print facing us thereby uniting eye and hand, vision with craft. The artist's perception, once you grasp it, can explode your understanding of life. That's why it is also bomb-like.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Kapoor, Memory (2008)

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Seen from the other side Memory shifts shape into the torpedo-like form of the human optic system (far left, above and below) with the pupil at one end. From yet a third side, Memory resembles a painting (near left) but which is in fact an entry into the dark interior of the sculpture from an adjacent gallery. “I am a painter working as a sculptor”, says Kapoor, no doubt aware, as I revealed recently, that Michelangelo turned his paintings in the Sistine Chapel into a 3-D sculpture of his own head, optic system included, an installation avant la lettre and still unknown to scholars.6

See conclusion below

 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Kapoor, Memory (2008)
Bottom: Diagram of the eye and the optic nerve (copyright: A.D.A.M.)
Top R: View of entry into the interior of Kapoor's Memory from adjacent room

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Everyone has a powerful mind, disguised and hidden, but if we can reveal it whole and pure, as poetic artists and sculptors do, we will see as clearly. And - surprise, surprise - you will discover you share Kapoor's mind and Michelangelo's too because each has the human mind and the True Self.

More Works by Kapoor

Notes:

1. "It [Kapoor's Memory] succeeds in creating a new perception of space through physical and mental scale. We not only have more to see, but have to exert more effort in the act of seeing. Kapoor describes this process as creating “mental sculpture.” Dematerializing steel and dismantling vision, Memory is the apotheosis of this cognitive process. Set within non-chronological time and fractured space, we are left to negotiate the sculpture’s ensuing incomprehensibility and fragmentation by attempting to piece together the images retained in our memories." Sandhini Poddar, Assistant Curator of Asian Art, Guggenheim, "Anish Kapoor: Memory" (online, Feb. 24th 2013)

2. For fragmentation in Picasso's work, see Abrahams, "Cubism Explained" (posted Oct. 30th 2011). Daniel Miller writes on the Frieze website: "At one of the conferences organized to mark Memory‘s opening, he {Kapoor] fiercely rounded on the popular concept of ‘asian art’. Turning to face his curators at the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Initiative, who struggled to come up with a plausible multiculturalist defence, Kapoor fiercely challenged their institutional role, claiming that their work ‘effects to put Asian artists into a drawer’, insisting that: ‘if there is an avant-garde, there is not a Chinese avant-garde, and an Indian avant-garde, and a Russian avant-garde: there is only one avant-garde.’" From Review of Kapoor's Memory (online, Feb. 24th 2013).

3. See note 2.

4. Simon Abrahams, Michelangelo's The Dream of Human Life (c.1533) on EPPH (2010).

5. See note 2.

6. Simon Abrahams' Quick Guide to the Sistine Chapel on EPPH (2010) and, for the additional view that the whole chapel has been turned into a 3D representation of the artist's head, see Abrahams, "Michelangelo's Skull" (posted 7th Oct. 2012).

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Feb 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.