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By C. Davis Remignanti

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 27 JULY 2008 — Poor Anish Kapoor. It must be tiresome to have to field the same question over and over. "How does your Indian heritage figure in your artistic vision?" Lack of originality and preparation on the part of his interviewers aside, there is something unseemly in the question. It's shameful how often (in the western media) Kapoor is described as the "Indian artist" or the "Indian-born sculptor." Perhaps I'm not alone in thinking that such questions and qualifiers imply: "Let's discuss the fact that you're not white."

For the record, Kapoor has described his Indian father as "positively anti-Hindu." His mother is Iraqi and of Jewish heritage. Though born in Bombay, Kapoor attended school and university in Israel before landing in London, where he currently resides with his wife and children. So those who presume the works of an "Indian artist" will include leitmotifs of Ganesh and marigold petals might find more satisfaction shopping at Pier One than contemplating the Turner Prize-winning artist's sculptures.

Anish Kapoor
Photo: Ji-youn Lee
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

In the documentary film that accompanies Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future , currently on view at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art, the 54-year-old Kapoor again good-naturedly tackles the question, saying, "I don't see (my works) coming out of my background." The 14 sculptures that comprise the show seem interested in the past only insofar as it gives the viewer a sense of time - both halted and fleeting - and space. They are forward-looking pieces, cunningly devised to disorient, insistent on redefining the present. Little did the ICA suspect the degree to which this exhibit would require a redefinition of its present.

While making preparations for the show, an unexpected dilemma was encountered when it was determined that bringing Kapoor's monumental S-Curve up to the fourth floor gallery space would unnecessarily test the limits of safety for the ICA's capacious elevator, their staff and the work itself. In a move that proved to be both forward-looking and present-redefining, the problem was solved in a manner that emphatically distinguished the ICA from many of its sister institutions.

They cut a hole in the side of their recently-completed building.

Now invisible from the exterior, this new and permanent gallery access is evidence that the ICA is more than an architectural pearl on the Boston Harbor waterfront; it is an organic institution ready to face the challenges of the constant redefinition of contemporary art. So it is appropriate that the show's eponymous piece, the massive Past, Present, Future is installed against the interior side of this new gallery access.

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

A domed and somewhat fluid mound of blood-hued wax and Vaseline - resembling nothing so much as a Brobdingnagian, opportunistic fungus - the kinetic piece maintains its shape through the slow, sweeping passage of a giant, arched flange, providing constant movement, constant change, constant challenge to viewer.

And, gallery personnel report, constant temptation. This piece and most of the others in the show figuratively and literally blur the edges of art to such a degree that visitors have a hard time keeping their hands off, reaching out for tactile confirmation of what the eye alone cannot completely assess. It is possible to stand within a foot of some of the pieces and not be able to visually register their geometry - are you looking at a sharp corner or a rounded one? A flat plane or a convex surface? Or is it concave? In some cases, the visual sleight can inspire mild vertigo.

Anish Kapoor: S-Curve, 2006
Polished steel, 85 1/4 x 384 x 48 in. (216.5 x 975.4 x 121.9 cm)
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Photo: Joshua White, Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

"The work leads the artist, not the other way around," says the convivial Kapoor, and it's been remarked that his pieces don't look made, they appear to simply be. They are like found objects - albeit found in some unimaginably-scaled, alternate existence. The artist's hand is completely invisible in the result; ironic in that Kapoor employs upwards of 20 assistants who labor ably to perfect each line, curve, surface and finish. The perhaps unfortunate result of this other-worldly perfection is that the pieces (by other artists) in adjoining galleries seem by comparison to be the issue of some tortured artistic process, overly fingered, arduously wrought.

Through his nimble use of negative space and darkness, Kapoor's works draw you forward, insisting that you encounter and assess the powers that tether you in the physical plane. After some initial moments of disorientation, you are invited to consider your relationship to what is real, what is perceived and what is imagined, or at least imaginable. Thus becalmed, a certain clarity allows you to experience something like what Kapoor has called the "moment of becoming," an ultimately pleasing feeling that you are on the brink of discovering some new thing about your world - and your place in it.

Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future
Through 7 September 2008
Institute of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts
Tel: (1) 617 478 31 00

C. Davis Remignanti is a writer based in Boston, Massachusetts.

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