Anish Kapoor, “Memory”, Cor-Ten Steel Installation, 2008, Deutsche Guggenheim Museum, Berlin
Anish Kapoor’s 2008 “Memory” is a site-specific work that was conceived to engage two different exhibition locations at the Guggenheim museums in Berlin and New York. Utilizing Cor-Ten steel for the first time, the sculpture represents a milestone in Kapoor’s career. Memory’s thin steel skin, only eight millimeters thick, suggests a form that is ephemeral and unmonumental. The sculpture appears to defy gravity as it gently glances against the periphery of the gallery walls and ceiling. However, as a 24-ton volume, Memory is also raw, industrial, and foreboding.
Positioned tightly within the gallery, Memory is never fully visible; instead the work fractures and divides the gallery into several distinct viewing areas. The division compels visitors to navigate the museum, searching for vantage points that offer only glimpses of the sculpture. This processional method of viewing Memory is an intrinsic aspect of the work. Visitors are asked to contemplate the ensuing fragmentation by attempting to piece together images retained in their minds, exerting effort in the act of seeing—a process Kapoor describes as creating a “mental sculpture.”
Memory’s rusting exterior creates a powdery surface, which relates this commission to Kapoor’s early pigment pieces from the 1980s. Rather than necessitating an additional coat of paint to smooth the interior curvature, the sculpture’s Cor-Ten tiles, perfectly manufactured to prevent light from seeping through, create the necessary conditions for darkness within. The work’s square aperture—wedged precisely into one of the gallery’s walls—allows a view into this boundless interior void.
The endless darkness seems to contradict what visitors know about the work’s delimited exterior. This contradiction between the known and the perceived is one of Kapoor’s central interests. The window also defines a two-dimensional plane that can be read as a painting rather than an opening. Kapoor’s interest in this pictorial effect is best reflected in his statement “I am a painter working as a sculptor.”