Installation view of Anish Kapoor’s eponymous exhibition at Arte Continua, Havana, 2017. Photo by Paola Martinez Fiterre. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins and Habana. 

Anish Kapoor

Arte Continua
India United Kingdom

The ubiquity and familiarity of Anish Kapoor’s work, which has been displayed in countless museums and public spaces in major cities across the world, extend to the most unexpected of places. In the case of the London-based artist’s first solo exhibition with Arte Continua in Cuba, Galleria Continua’s fourth space, which furthered his studies on perceptions of color and depth, the installations felt particularly well-suited to the architecture of a former 1950s movie theater located in Havana’s Chinatown.

Upon entering the gallery, the dizzying effect of Descent into Limbo, Havana (2016) was instant and immediate. Sitting like a stretch of carpet in the main auditorium, the black circle on the empty concrete floor initially appeared solid and impenetrable. Only upon stepping closer did the depth of the gaping hole become visible. The chasm is simultaneously physical and psychological: the more one peers into the abyss, struggling to see into the darkness, the more the mind races to fill the void with our imagined fears. This anxiety, stirred up by the hole, recalls what Kierkegaard dubbed as our “dizziness of freedom,” in which our “eye” and consequently our brain becomes muddled by the lack of finiteness and the possibility of sinking deeper and deeper with no end.

ANISH KAPOOR, When I am Pregnant, 1992–2016, fibreglass, wood and paint, 600 × 600 × 150 cm. Photo by Paola Martinez Fiterre. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins and Habana. 

Contrasting this negative space was an all-white panel on a stage that mimicked the look of a projection screen that would have once been installed in the same area. When viewed head on, its surface appeared flat and smooth, with only an odd discoloration disturbing the center. But as I approached the installation from an angle, I realized Kapoor had created yet another optical illusion. It was not a coat of paint I had seen but a cluster of shadows cast by a three-dimensional protrusion; the work’s spherical bulge is at its maximum size when viewed from its profile. When I am Pregnant (1992–2016) could be interpreted as an ironic, tongue-in-cheek metaphor about creativity, a dry joke performed by the artist. Yet an unnerving quality about the “belly” persists through the humor, and its fullness threatens to burst. An uneasy anticipation about what will be birthed echoes the anxiety about the unknown that is ominously swirling just a few feet away in Descent into Limbo.

Installation view of ANISH KAPOOR’s Descent into Limbo, Havana (2016), Monochrome (Lake Violet Pearl) and Monochrome (Majik Blue) (both 2015). Photo by Paola Martinez Fiterre. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins and Habana. 

The effect of The Healing of St. Thomas (1989) is much more subtle. One could easily miss the barely visible mark on the otherwise blank wall opposite the stage. Up close, the convex, blood-colored laceration comes into focus. In this work, the Biblical allusion to the skeptical apostle, who doubted the Resurrection until he saw Jesus’ wounded body, lightly pokes fun at an old maxim: “Seeing is believing.” Indeed, Kapoor’s deliberate manipulation of our vision proves just how little we can rely on our eyes to inform us, or even to reassure us.

Upstairs on the theater balcony hung two seemingly identical concave discs—a favorite shape of the artist. In this iteration, the pair Monochrome (Lake Violet Pearl) (2015) and Monochrome (Majik Blue) (2016) faced each other, compelling the viewer to turn their gaze back and forth to determine whether or not the mirror images are actually painted the different colors they are purported to be. Adding to the challenge, the hues that the eye observes shifts according to the shadows created by the gallery lighting that changed as I moved around the space.

ANISH KAPOORMonochrome (Lake Violet Pearl), 2015, fibreglass and paint, 188 × 188 × 40 cm. Photo by Charlotte Urgese. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins and Habana. 

Finally, a cinema house would not be complete without an actual video projection. Although not officially one of the site-specific sculptures for the solo exhibition, Kapoor’s Wounds and Absent Objects (1998), which previously screened at Cine Payret for the 2015 Havana Biennial, felt perfectly congruous with his other works. The video cycles through gradients of blue to magenta to green over the course of seven minutes. While sitting in the darkened theater on the ground floor, I experienced the sensation of traveling in a tunnel, amplified by the rumbling and wind-like recording that accompanies the film. This was further heightened by the emergence of a circular outline in the projection, which is revealed slowly as the colors bleed into one another.

The theme of formal repetition and variation links the six installations together, and the placement and positioning of each individual unit within the gallery’s unique structure provides context to their effects. Much like how Kapoor’s public commissions rely on their settings to increase impact, the pieces featured at Arte Continua exist in dialogue with the space.

Anish Kapoor’s eponymous exhibition at Arte Continua, Havana, is on view until June 25, 2017.

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