a horror show of bodily fluids, giant testicles and violence

If it is the artist’s job to provide a commentary on the state we find ourselves in, to force us to confront deep and shared truths, then we can believe from Anish Kapoor that things are much worse than we didn’t think so.

Armageddon is in full swing at Modern Art Oxford, where Kapoor has returned for the first time in almost 40 years. It is rare that we have the opportunity to see his paintings, but here they line the walls: in one, a chasm opens up and turns black, in another, the broken earth pours out its flaming and bloody entrails. Together, they provide a dark enough backdrop for the horror show that dominates the floor space.

Grotesquely Large Stomachs or Testicles – Does It Matter? – are hung on planks or metal frames, as if we had entered a slaughterhouse or something infinitely worse.

A chair draped in bodily matter and fluids sits in a tray overflowing with viscous red: the flows so aptly integrated on either side are horribly eloquent, indicating not an outburst of gratuitous violence, but something more ritualistic – organized, efficient. and endless.

In what for him is an unusual gesture, Kapoor reaches out towards the figurative in a scene of implicit sexual violence. A lump of scraped skin, or perhaps a blood-soaked sheet, rests on the ground with a pile of hair and a strangely crescent-shaped bone, like cow horns; nearby, a hole in the wall is dripping red. His title, Goddess as a girl, circumvents the specific, instead invoking the great continuum of time, in which the abuse of women and girls is as old as the oldest myths.

By extending the chromatic and gestural language of the murals, the floor pieces beg to be seen as painting (Photo: Anish Kapoor)

If such blatant brutality seems out of place – “You seem such a gentle man,” a reporter suggested at Kapoor’s press conference – the seeds of these latter works have been germinating for some time, with visceral manipulations of red wax, of resin and silicon, a leitmotif of recent years.

But where once Kapoor evoked inner worlds through inlets and channels, dense voids or accumulations of pigments and mirrors that promise something beyond, here the protective shell of the body has been erased, leaving only its mutilated entrails. The discreet worlds of Kapoor’s earlier sculptures have here been replaced by a total and all-consuming environment contained within the gallery space.

Beyond the show’s rowdy sensationalism, something more subtle emerges. Murals can be stage coverings, but they also function as exercises in colors and gestures, a careful look at The shadow revealing luscious raspberry ripple colors that are in tension with the overall sensibility of the show.

By extending the chromatic and gestural language of the murals, the pieces on the ground ask to be considered as painting, for which they advocate an ambitious but imperfect program, concerned with life and death.

Until February 13, 2022


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