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The sculptural qualities of light have been explored in depth by contemporary art. Illumination is a cornerstone of minimalism, and artists like James Turrell and Anthony McCall create beautiful, architectural pieces using only light. Darkness has yet to be the subject of so thorough an investigation. Anish Kapoor's installation at the Guggenheim, Memory, demonstrates that it can carry as much structural and emotional force as its opposite.

Museum-goers who sneak away from Tino Sehgal's show in search of some material art might encounter an enigmatic object wedged into a corner gallery. The piece resembles a petrified zeppelin, and like Alice in Wonderland after eating the wrong cake, it fits so tightly into the space that it appears to have arrived smaller and expanded on site. The object's proportions are hard to gauge, since the viewer cannot fit into the room to take it in all at once. It could be a long-buried ruin pushed up into the modern world by seismic forces.

The feeling of weight and solidity created by the steel is quickly dispelled by a square cut out of the wall in an adjacent gallery, into the dark interior of the object. Because we so rarely encounter complete darkness, the black window stirs up the visceral dread of a backpacker lost in the wilderness. Without surface, depth, or texture, it baffles physicality. It is impossible to gauge the depth or dimensions of the void. The piece avoids minimalist austerity, though: the darkness itself is luxurious and extravagant, commanding attention without disclosing anything. Kapoor's metal pod isolates darkness for contemplation,  and it proves just as compelling as light.


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Anish Kapoor


Visual Arts