By Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Anish Kapoor, Void Pavilion VII, 2023. Installation view at Untrue Unreal at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio.
There it is, a white cube: the theoretical basis of all display methods and the primary element of curating art. Located inside a Renaissance courtyard of the same name, Void Pavilion VII is the starting point and arrival of the exhibit path. It is the site-specific installation that the British artist Anish Kapoor has created exclusively for his solo exhibition Untrue Unreal at Palazzo Strozzi from October 7 until February 4. As I looked at the structure, I had a hard time guessing whether it was an ancient temple made of blocks resembling those of pyramids or if its polished surface came from the future, possibly a gift from non-human beings.
The chalky interiors spotted with black shapes of Void Pavilion VII (2023) are both ancestral and unprecedented, generating a sense of estrangement in me and other viewers. In its immersivity, you can feel how the void can be saturated with space, sublimated through the meditative experience
SVAYAMBHU AND FULFILLMENT – ANISH KAPOOR’S ARTISTIC ESSENCE
Artworks with movement embedded in their display always generate an enchanting feeling that pulls any spectator towards it. Svayambhu (2007), the first artwork visitors see at Palazzo Strozzi, is a gigantic parallelepipedon of wax with almost imperceptible but constant motion. Its vermillion buttery chunks crumble and inevitably fall to the ground, while its grey-painted door frames become irremediably covered with a blood-like substance.
Crossing two rooms of Palazzo Strozzi’s piano nobile, it takes one hour for the red wax block to go from one end to the other, moving on a twenty-metre ramp. Its silent movement is accompanied by a warm and cosy smell that inevitably clashes with the pain, violence and death that Svayambhu represents.
Considering that the Sanskrit title of the artwork could be translated as “self-originated”, the installation seems to be a metaphor for how destruction is a necessary yet excruciating step to fulfil the artwork. The block melts and changes, moulded by movement and time, leaving behind little red wax mountains on the side of the ramp as visible wounds of the block’s progression in history and space.
MIRRORS DON’T TELL THE TRUTH. HOW ANISH KAPOOR TRIGGERS US
Vertigo (2006) explores the alienation of the reflection, the hallucinating process of becoming increasingly estranged from oneself while getting closer to the shiny surface of the mirrors. This artwork is a game of zooms and visual alterations triggered by even the slightest movement of the subject in front of it. However, staring at it for too long can hurt the senses, as the room will relentlessly start spiralling around within seconds – try it yourself to see what I mean.
The mirrors used throughout the history of art were mostly convex, being this characteristic a symbol of virtue; examples of this can be seen in the detail of the Arnolfini Portrait (1434) by Jan Van Eyck and the Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror (1524) by Parmigianino.
Anish Kapoor was one of the first artists to play with polished surfaces using concave structures instead, tickling a sense of uncertainty. Through zooms, elongation and even the disappearance of the figure in front of it, Vertigo is a fascinating artwork that brings out the illusory nature of mirrors, raising questions about the actual subject of mirrors: is it us actively looking at them or the passive reflection of us?
ANISH KAPOOR’S VANTABLACK – A PIGMENT BETWEEN THE THIRD AND FOURTH DIMENSION
The circle and sphere have become symbols of Kapoor’s entire artistic ethos. While being unpretentious of holding any defined meaning, Non-Object Black (2015) proves that Vantablack is not simply a colour but a transformation factor. Through that hue, the destruction of the third dimension provides access to a mystical fourth dimension.
It absorbs roughly 99% of light and is considered blacker than a blackhole, putting our planet in contact with the universe outside; the finite and infinite, unitary and absolute, are condensed in this pigment. Within a seemingly empty black circle, Non-Object Black hides a sphere.
During the press conference that anticipated the exhibition, the British artist stated that the perfect artwork lies between the categories of meaning and non-meaning. Non-Object Black is a meditative experience of oneself and the space. It also poses unsettling questions about our reality, with no angles or shadows, opening itself to the unknown through its darkness. In this light-less environment that seems inhospitable to every being, life thrives more than ever, with its contradictory nature of being untrue and unreal.
Amid the overall contemplative atmosphere of the exhibition, I had the opportunity to establish a silent relationship with the artworks, which triggered a flow of thoughts ranging from calm, peace, anguish, and disgust to more complex questions on the conception of space, time and truth.