Anish Kapoor1 is a British-Indian sculptor who is well-known especially for his large-scale sculptures and installations. His work does not entail and explore the human body but one of his finest creation Marsyas is an exception.
A little about Anish Kapoor
Many describe Kapoor’s work as enigmatic. He has been creating powdered pigment sculptures, a fascinating whirlpool installation2 as well as larger-than-life interventions3. Anish Kapoor’s sculptures permeate a physical and psychological space. He takes a very inventive approach that has resulted in him making art that is very different than humans often come to see.
The way he materializes abstract concepts is a sight to behold, letting his sculptures speak for themselves. Throughout his time, he has tended to explore opposites like being and not-being, place and non-place and presence and absence.
How the sculpture looked like
Marsyas stood in Turbine Hall4 in the Tate Modern5 in London6 between 2002 and 2003. It was third in the series of commissions, and it was the only piece to make use of the full space of the hall. This ten-story high and 150 meters long sculpture was made up of three rings. Two large rings were fixed on either end of the hall and one perpendicular to them. The rings were joined together by a red PVC membrane which created the impression that they are held together. This creates a beautiful overall form of the sculpture that moves from vertical to horizontal than vertical again. The PVC membrane had a fleshy quality that feels like flayed skin. This whole sculpture felt like a dive into the skin. The deep red color of PVC plays a great role in it.
The idea behind it
In January 2002, as Anish Kapoor came up with the idea for Marsyas, he wanted something to challenge the Turbine Hall. And he found that the only way to do this would be by challenging the entire space in it. Kapoor wanted to create something larger than life. He considered the hall as a giant cupboard with a shelf as the bridge in the center divided the room. Over the next few months, he explored the potential of the room by testing different drawings and sculptural maquettes. His primary focus was the human view and relationship to the sculpture.
The role of Greek Mythology
Anish Kapoor took the idea of Marsyas from a Greek Mythology where a satyr’s skin is flayed. The Satyr’s7 name was Marsyas8 who had challenged the Greek God of music, Apollo9. Eventually, when the Satyr lost the contest against the God, he was ordered that his skin be flayed alive. Numerous arts in the form of paintings were based upon this event but none were like what Kapoor had created.
The choice of red color
The sculptor comments that the dark red color of the sculpture suggests something bodily, earthly, and physical. While he was making this sculpture, he said he wanted to make a body in the sky. The viewer was pushed in a monochromatic stream of color. It is compared to the flesh because the rich red monochrome allows the viewer to feel like they just dropped under the skin and are diving through flesh and blood. To Anish Kapoor, the language of engineering was turned into the language of the body.
An unobtainable sculpture
Kapoor’s most important focus was that the viewer could never have a complete view of the sculpture. The sculpture was embedded in the hall in such a way that Marsyas cannot be viewed fully under any circumstances. The motto of Kapoor was to construct it in such a way that the work must remain mysterious and never reveal the real plan. Only then can people see it as unobtainable.
3 1/2 months of construction
And that was what Kapoor wanted; that his work remains a secret to all. This project is Kapoor’s largest work to date. Not only this, it may be Tate’s largest as well as the world’s largest work as well. Marsyas took eight weeks to build, and about 40 people to erect it during six weeks.
The sculpture is to be experienced in a series of discrete encounters, each time taking in a small part of the whole. As we piece together all the figments of what we see, an image builds in our mind. The interesting fact is everyone develops their version of Marsyas, and the real one remains a mystery with Anish Kapoor. This keeps the purpose of the sculpture intact and makes the actual installation still a secret.
Marsyas is thought-provoking and perceptive. You get a different view from each place but never the complete. This can be seen as a metaphor for human life. One can know many different sides of a situation but never really the complete picture. People piece different parts of a situation in different ways and develop their image in their mind. Each image is very different from the other despite everyone seeing the same thing.
The bigger picture is often larger than what we think, and this makes us ponder over that. The element of mystery remains in life as well as Marsyas. The deep red color and the conical openings make you feel like you are being pulled in a black hole with a never-ending abyss. This is what makes the work of Anish Kapoor outstanding. It’s simply not something to be viewed, but it must be perceived and interpreted in one’s way.
This impressive creation no more lies in Turbine Hall, but it will still be remembered as one of the greatest creations the Tate Art Museum has seen.
Video: Anish Kapoor speaks about Marsyas
Models & Sketches
All images by Anish Kapoor/anishkapoor.com unless otherwise noted.
Other important works
- Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan at Grand Palais – His most impressive work yet?
- Anish Kapoor’s whirlpool – Everything you need to know
- Scale of Anish Kapoor’s sculpture is frighteningly extraordinary