Anish Kapoor in Venice: a missed opportunity?

Lights and shadows of an exhibition that could and should have been much more.

Posted by Davide Caniatti on Monday, September 30, 2019


A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Anish Kapoor exhibition in Venice. I wanted to let some time pass before writing about it to process better what I had seen. An exhibition has rarely left me so fascinated and angry simultaneously. But let’s start with the facts.

The exhibition is divided into two exhibition spaces, one part at the Accademia Galleries and one at Palazzo Manfrin. The exhibition spaces alone are worth the ticket price. The Academy is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful locations in the world, with a permanent collection capable of making any museum pale. Palazzo Manfrin, on the other hand, is a noble Venetian palace that cannot always be visited, of infinite beauty as only the palaces of Venice can be.

Choosing similar locations is, in my opinion, Kapoor’s first double-edged sword. These are spectacular locations, in fact, but they are very challenging. How can we think of being more contemporary with Giorgione’s storm or Titian’s deposition? I do not believe it is the author’s presumption, but if it was a challenge, we could say that it was lost from the start. At the same time, however, even the most avid detractor can only appreciate a place like Palazzo Manfrin and will be convinced that he has spent the ticket price well.

Let’s now move on to the actual exhibition. In it, Kapoor retraces the critical points of his career and tries to reconfirm himself as THE name of contemporary art. His installations (almost paintings) in Vantablack are fantastic. I know they are somewhat of a controversial topic, but I must confess that I particularly appreciated them. The play of light (or instead, of black) that is created is surprising and gives the exhibition a playful touch that is welcome. The deforming mirrors, one of the first works by the British artist, are included in the same vein.

I understand that Kapoor can be accused of being almost childish in this production of his. At the same time, I see fair childlike amazement, perhaps one of the best ways to approach contemporary art. The artist is then aware of it, and with this amazement, he has always played with it. One of the oldest works on display, The Healing of St Thomas (1985), is particularly successful and entertaining for the amusing, but not trivial, game of cross-references. Of course, it is an “easy” production, but not for this reason, in my opinion, to be underestimated.

On the other hand, the serious Kapoor is disappointing. The whole part that reminds of blood and flesh is frankly disgusting. Someone could immediately stop me and point out how showing that disgust was the artist’s intent. Someone more educated could point out to me that in art, this is not a novelty but a long tradition that starts with Goya and passes through Picasso. However, thanks to the war period in which we live, I did not appreciate that part. I think the horror is already on our screens 24 hours a day, and we don’t need anything else. Above all, we do not need anything else so aesthetically ugly.

Let me explain: there are cases in history in which violence is visually satisfying; let’s think of a certain type of cinema. Here it is not only disgusting but also uninteresting. Think of CY Twombly’s series of portraits on Commodus. They are powerful but also extraordinarily beautiful. Kapoor’s canvases are not only annoying - albeit much less than the installations - but they risk being worse: insignificant.

It is, therefore, natural to wonder how an artist capable of such high peaks, especially in his youth, could have produced something similar. It is even more spontaneous to ask why the Academy lends its spaces to objectively ugly installations. The answer, I fear, is that Kapoor is now a star, and his art is of little interest to him. They are interested in the name on the billboard and the catalog, which is a shame. Not because you want to do some moralism, but because more objective and dry editing of his work would also be good for the artist. On the other hand, proposing everything on the same level is not suitable for his work and waters it down irremediably.

If this was to be an exhibition where Kapoor shows us his legacy, let’s say the mission failed. It shows us that the British artist had peaks of genius but that the organic nature of his work is not - in my humble opinion - equal to his heights. To leave the bitter taste in the mouth is precisely the ending in which one realizes, as for many, that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Too bad, especially as some of those parts are beautiful!