Artist Kapoor draws on Berlin's dark history in new show

Fri May 24, 2013 1:00pm EDT

* Anish Kapoor stages first major exhibit in Berlin

* Includes many artworks created for the show

* Kapoor attacks British government for not supporting arts

By Sarah Marsh

BERLIN, May 24 (Reuters) - Blood-red bricks of wax are shifted by conveyor belts up metal chutes towards the centre of an atrium before thudding down and splattering like entrails, in a monumental new installation created by artist Anish Kapoor for his new show in Berlin.

A giant, dark sun-like red disk hovers above the ever-growing heaps of wax splodges in "Symphony for a Beloved Sun", which opens Kapoor's first major exhibit in Berlin, running until Nov. 24 in the Martin Gropius Bau exhibition hall.

"Kapoor in Berlin" includes works that the Turner prize-winning artist has created specifically for this show as well as a selection of other provocative sculptures dating back to the 1980s, made with wax, steel, resin, stone and mirrors.

The artworks range from frightening installations like "Symphony" - which recalls the industrialised murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust - to playful curved or geometrically fragmented mirrors which one might find in an amusement park.

"It refers to the history of this place, obliquely to the Holocaust, and to Russian Constructivists," British curator and art historian Norman Rosenthal told Reuters.

The Gropius Bau is housed in an elegant neo-Renaissance pile destroyed in World War Two and re-opened only in 1981. It is located next to the former site of the headquarters of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany's murderous secret police.

From the windows, visitors can also glimpse a stretch of the Berlin Wall that divided western and communist eastern Germany throughout the Cold War.

"You can see each of those red bricks as incorporating the innards of dead spirits - and there are lots of them in this part of the world," said Rosenthal.

Kapoor, who speaks with an upper-class British accent, is one of Britain's most renowned contemporary sculptors and created the country's biggest piece of public art with his controversial, 22 million pound ($33.31 million) spiralling red tower for London's Olympic Park.

But the artist was born and raised in India to an Iraqi-Jewish mother and a Hindu father, and spent a brief period in Israel aged 16 living on a kibbutz before settling in Britain.

"Inevitably (the installation) does have some relation to this site, to this city, to this country, to its history," Kapoor told Reuters.

One German paper noted that the Swastika symbol adopted by the Nazis, signifies the sun in some civilisations and in the Hindu tradition is a symbol for good fortune.

The 59-year old, who sported a casual blue suit, red sneakers and floppy silver hair, said that he did not want to convey a narrative or statement with his work. Rather, the process of the artwork should yield a deeper meaning.

"I was born and brought up in India, my work is Indian and not Indian," he said. "Similarly, Jewishness is one of those things that is there present as a reality but it's not something I directly draw upon."

HALLS OF MIRRORS

The show includes some of Kapoor's classic works such as "Shooting into the Corner", in which a canon periodically fires a ball of red wax into a white corner, and "The Death of Leviathan", a gargantuan maroon PVC balloon that sprawls through several rooms.

Kapoor said the deflating piece evoked "the death of the state, the decline of the state" being experienced in Europe and beyond, the idea that the individual has to take on the responsibility for tasks previously assumed by the state.

The London-based artist said the British government was failing to acknowledge the importance of the arts and education sector and offer adequate financial support.

"It need to pull its socks up and do something, take on a kind of responsibility," he said.

The exhibition feels something like an amusement park at times, with its halls of mirrors and the cave-like sculptures made with stone or warty resin evocative of ear wax that visitors can peer through.

Other artworks are like optical illusions. In "When I'm Pregnant", a subtle bulge emerges from the white wall, while the black disk in the middle of the floor in "Descent into Limbo" seems to be a gaping hole opening into a bottomless pit.

Rosenthal said Kapoor was constantly playing with the tension between the idea of a black hole and a certain density, "a kind of infinity that is unbelievably beautiful".

($1 = 0.6606 British pounds) (Reporting By Sarah Marsh)

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