Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor is known for creating huge, hyper-smooth shapes. Now you can see 14 of his pieces at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
"Past, Present, Future" is Kapoor's first major U.S. retrospective in 15 years, and WBUR's Andrea Shea takes us behind the scenes.
Her mission: find out what it takes to stage an exhibition filled with monumental objects, including one that's covered in sticky red "goo."
ANDREA SHEA: Anish Kapoor's pieces look like they come from another planet. Mysterious discs, cones and cubes evoke the monolith in Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi film, '2001: A Space Odyssey.' On this day, though, the objects in the gallery at the ICA are boxed and wrapped...waiting to be opened, prepared and placed in the exhibition.
Sound of plastic
NICHOLAS BAUME: Now this is interesting...we've got the plastic off the face...FADE
ANDREA SHEA: That's ICA Curator Nicholas Baume sneaking a peak at a metallic thing.
NICHOLAS BAUME: When you first see it it appears just like this flat circle on the wall yet now as we're approaching you start to perceive that it's this whole hemispherical piece embedded in the wall. And even our voices start to change as we get closer.
ANDREA SHEA: Some of Kapoor's pieces are like bottomless voids or funhouse mirrors. Baume stands in front of a deep red, reflective dish. Diameter about seven feet.
NICHOLAS BAUME: It's so perfect it looks as if it was cast down from the heavens, or maybe raised up to the heavens, but it just seems so perfect that you can't imagine how it was physically made.
ANISH KAPOOR: One of the fictions of my work is that these things are not made.
ANDREA SHEA: Artist Anish Kapoor is here from London for the installation. He stands next to a huge crimson blobby piece. It's a head-scratcher. The artist says that's good. Kapoor calls his objects 'philosophical propositions.'
ANISH KAPOOR: Maybe that's one of the things that art does well. Art perhaps proposes realities through illusion. And maybe that reality is much deeper than apparent real reality.
ANDREA SHEA (to Kapoor): Well if we talk about 'real' reality (he laughs) what does it really take to create a piece like this?
ANISH KAPOOR: Well it's about 15 tons of wax and a lot of doing to get to a point where nothing much is being done. (laughs)
ANDREA SHEA: But at this point it takes a small army of installers to construct the frame for this piece. It's about 11 feet high, 30 feet wide, and shaped like an igloo cut in half, flush against the wall. Next they'll slather it with a mixture of wax, Vaseline and blood-colored pigment. It's greasy and squishy. Almost fleshy looking. Kellum Scott calls it...
Goopy, squishy sound
KELLUM SCOTT: Plastic mud. (laughs)
ANDREA SHEA: Scotts dressed in a white hazmat suit. I even put one on so I can get close to the goop.
Sound of zipper zipping
ANDREA SHEA: Scotts been an installer at the ICA for two years and says our get-ups...which makes us look like Oompah Loompahs...are novel.
KELLUM SCOTT: I mean usually we wear cotton white gloves and very careful with everything, here we're just in a mess. Protecting ourselves more than protecting it.
More goopy sounds
JAMES HORGAN: It clings to your skin and it doesn't come off.
ANDREA SHEA: Installer James Horgan hurls a melon-sized glob.
The thunk! of the glob hitting the sculpture
ANDREA SHEA: While his colleague Joshua Falk slides his hands into the vat of Vaseline.
JOSHUA FALK: It's like an Italian ice at the bottom where it's all sugary and gooey.
Sound of goop + Jeff Dyson: 'It's easy to mix because...' FADE
ANDREA SHEA: Jeff Dyson shows the installers what to do with the goo. He's Kapoor's studio assistant in London and is in Boston to supervise the installation.
JEFF DYSON: When the piece of work is finished you never see how it was made. You know you can't see carving marks or what tools were used. The idea is that the mark of the hand isn't on there at all, and that's pretty much what we do. We do it but we don't do it. (laughs)
ANDREA SHEA: They have a lot to do...or not do....at the ICA. Dyson peels plastic on an enormous crate containing 2 stainless steel curved mirrors.
Sound of plastic being unwrapped + Jeff Dyson: 'These are the heaviest things, couple of tons each side, 4,400 pounds each in fact.'
ANDREA SHEA: The 'S-Curves' were shipped here from London via container ships.
Sound of heavy cart being wheeled across gallery
ANDREA SHEA: Tim Obetz is the ICA's Chief Preparator and oversees the moving and handling on this end. He supervises the installers and says working with Kapoor's massive objects has pushed his crew, and the ICA's new building, to the limit.
TIM OBETZ: Well I think the biggest challenge was three pieces in here that we really were not going to get in our elevator and so we had to figure out how we were going to get them up here and really the best way was for us to cut a hole in the side of the building and to crane them in.
Sound of fork lift
ANDREA SHEA: And Obetz says they got to bring the museum's forklift up to the gallery for the first time. Looking at the final layout artist Anish Kapoor says the viewer's experience of his work should be pure. And intimate.
ANISH KAPOOR: The important thing about sculpture is that it's non-verbal. That it's a kind of memory you have in your stomach, or in your knees, and that it can be evoked, it can be woken up by a form or a non-form...or something.
Sound of mechanical sculpting arm
ANDREA SHEA: In its finished form the big red globby piece is continually sculpted by a slow-moving mechanical arm...as if it's making itself. Kapoor calls it 'Past, Present, Future'...same name as the exhibition.
For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.
This program aired on May 30, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.