Astute readers will know that I'm a sucker for large-scale art in architectural or urban contexts. A few projects I've featured include Christo and Jean-Claude's The Wall: 13,000 Oil Barrels, Felice Varini's Square with four circles, Gijs Van Vaerenbergh's The Upside Dome, and Ernesto Neto's Leviathan Thot. This last one, an installation in the Pantheon in Paris, comes to mind when I see images of Anish Kapoor's similarly titled Leviathan, which inhabited the Grand Palais in Paris as part of Monumenta 2011. Each installation places amoeba-like forms within old buildings; Neto responds to the Pantheon's stone by suspending a "creature" from the aisles and dome, but Kapoor squeezes an inhabitable megastructure inside the daylit Grand Palais. It's impressive.
[Photographs are courtesy Frédéric Beck]
I first heard about Leviathan in the New York Observer, in Adam Lindemann's coverage of summer art shows in Europe. He just loves Kapoor's "huge inflated stomach and intestine," saying "Mr. Kapoor’s installation will be the standard by which all future shows [in France] will be judged." He doesn't know what it means, and doesn't care, since "the strong emotions and amazement it evokes in the audience make it one of the most successful public works done anywhere by anyone."
In person, I only know Kapoor's sculptures from the highly successful Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millennium Park, as well as a few small pieces in museums. His vortex-like forms definitely say "Kapoor," but I think the power in his objects is twofold: the relationship to their contexts and the spaces created. At Millennium Park, the choice of a polished stainless steel makes "The Bean" reflect its surrounding, particularly the Michigan Avenue street wall. The fact the reflections are warped is probably just the result of the form, nothing deeper, but it lets people see the city in a different way. Underneath the sculpture, people can stare up at a vortex that appears to extend much further than the its size would indicate.
Leviathan fits into its context, a building rather than an urban space, by squeezing itself into the different arms of the Grand Palais. It's as if a viscous fluid flowed through the spaces and solidified into its final form. It creates numerous spaces outside of itself, both underneath the sculpture itself and between the sculpture and the building, an in-between space of a shape born from the curves of the roof. But this is also a sculpture that can be inhabited, and the character inside, as the photo below and others attest, is much different than outside. The PVC walls glow red, instead of the external eggplant color, illuminated by the skylights of the building. Obviously not all of the inside is accessible, a Kapoor trope, like the Cloud Gate, where space appears indefinite or infinite. He positions people and controls how the space of his sculptures is perceived, not varied like the outside, but a fixed perspective like Duchamp's Étant donnés.