There is a John Updike story in the voice of a craftsman-potter, whose work is notable for the “fanatic” perfection of its surfaces. “If the merest pimple of a captured dust mote reveals itself to my caress I smash the pot,” he writes.
One of the pleasures of Anish Kapoor’s recent sculptures, currently on show at London’s Lisson Gallery, is of this kind. They are remarkably well made, with surfaces that exhibit the same meticulous attention to the purity of surface: sensuous curves with a shine and a smoothness that deserve to be called fanatic.
Many are moulded in monochrome fibreglass/resin and this is made to glow, as well as shine, by the rich depth of their colour – principally the earthy red that has become a Kapoor trademark. Red, he has said, is “a colour I’ve felt very strongly about”, which stands for “the colour of the interior of our bodies”. An interior as well as an exterior is present in “Inside Out”. An elongated cavity has been extruded from a thin, curving plane so that it shows (if you choose to see it) not only a vulva discreetly on one side, but also a penis flaunting its full extension on the other. But the phallic is much less evident in this show than the vulvar. Kapoor has for some time been preoccupied with clefts, slots, secret declivities and – in the case of a fibreglass piece he shows here, explicitly entitled “Marsupial” – pouches.
Shallower cavities are also in evidence. The circular, concave shape of “Chairo”, made untypically from wood, looks like a satellite dish but the signals it collects are ones of light, the dancing and distorting in response to the movement in front of it. The reflection comes from a lacquered black surface whose inky shine attains an extra-
ordinary depth of perfection from Kapoor’s use of expert Japanese lacquerers, heirs of an ancient, exacting craft.
If these pieces celebrate the less wrinkled and beaten-up portions of the sculptor’s psyche, the large piece “Past, Present, Future” introduces a new and muckier aspect. A large half-dome occupies one end of the room, again in fibreglass but this time with a surface of blood-red pigment and wax, slapped on and leaving a lot of messy smudge and splatter on the wall and floor around the edge.
An even splattier piece is “Blood Relations”. This has been the subject of media attention because it is a collaboration with Kapoor’s friend and fellow native of Mumbai Salman Rushdie. Two containers roughly the size of a galvanised domestic water-tank but here cast in rough-surfaced bronze are inscribed in a continuous line of print with the opening paragraphs of Rushdie’s laconic essay on the Sheherezade myth: “So how many women did they kill, this King . . . and his brother?”
When one peers in, the two tanks are found to contain what looks like blood. In one it lies in a shallow, placid pool. In the corners of the other are four enigmatic quarter-spheres coloured red and between them a deposit of what appear to be viscera.
But of all the pieces in the show, the one that will provide visitors with the most fun is “Vertigo”. It is a freestanding rectangular curved mirror, big enough to rival a grand Victorian history painting, and made in highly polished stainless steel. On the concave side the reflections of bodies moving in front of it swoop, glide and flip over in an exhilarating demonstration of distorted optics. On the convex side a calmer, rounded and only slightly weird reflection stares back at you.
With this piece – arriving in London concurrently with Tate Modern’s helter-skelter slides – art looks as if it has rediscovered with glee some of the attractions of the fairground.