“If hate stops public experimentation, we all lose,” Anish Kapoor said at a press conference on Monday at Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, where “My Red Homeland,” a four-piece retrospective named after Kapoor’s 2003 kinetic wax sculpture, is on view through January 17. In a sad and unfortunate coincidence, the opening followed a French court’s decision Saturday to cover the anti-Semitic graffiti on his Versailles installation Dirty Corner, ruling against Kapoor’s desire to leave it exposed, on the grounds that it incites hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“What are we to do, pretend it didn’t happen? It did happen,” Kapoor said, visibly upset. “Some right-wing, very racist in my view, deputy from parliament has taken me to court… And we lost, can you believe it? The proposition that it was I who was promoting anti-Semitic material is just insane.” He repeated his earlier comparison of the ruling to rape-victim shaming, and said that he plans to appeal.
“It’s a terrible, sad thing,” he said. “It’s extraordinary that culture can be a victim of vandalism, of more than vandalism, of hate.” He then asked that all questions focus back on the exhibition at hand. But, of course, the conversation did veer back to Versailles. After the press conference, I met with Kapoor to further discuss his sentiments on these acts of vandalism, his recent march with Ai Weiwei in London, and Instagram’s newfound role in his artistic practice.
ARTnews: During the walkthrough of the exhibition just now, you pointed to the “S-Curve” sculpture and said that, ‘In the age of Instagram, this is a selfie object.’ Now that you are on Instagram, have you enjoyed seeing the interaction between the art and viewer evolve?
Anish Kapoor: I do see that. People look with their phones. It’s not really necessary to look at it with their eyes at all, and it’s the bizarrest thing! I’m old-fashioned enough to be uncertain about it, at least.
After the vandalism in Versailles, you recently started an Instagram specifically for Dirty Corner. As a tool, does Instagram add a useful layer to your work?
I do take it seriously, and I am quite active with it. I think especially lately, with what’s going on in Versailles and all that stuff that is more or less to do with the studio and more to do with what’s out there in the world, I feel like it’s a good tool of public engagement. The mainstay of my practice is of course the studio. It’s where it happens. It’s what matters. Public engagement is fine, but it isn’t a place hitherto that I’ve found to be creative. Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe one needs to rethink it.
Does Instagram also provide you a space for activism? You’ve said multiple times that, “the artist has nothing to say,” and yet recently you’ve been making overtly political statements, and so I wonder, why keep them separate?
I think I hold firmly to the belief that agitprop doesn’t work, not as art. It works as agitprop, but it doesn’t work as art. We’re in this business for the long term, and I’m not really interested in the short-term effects. As an artist, I feel that I have to have the highest aspiration for the work. Even if that is pompous and grandiose, so what? One has to hold on to the long, long view of poetic intent. So yes, the amazing thing about politics is that it comes and goes. What does it look like in 20 years? Activism has a galvanizing force for the moment, but its poetic value is somewhat difficult to see, if not limited. One can link work, link art, to emotive chords, but it can’t be its only purpose.
A work of art, then, should theoretically outlive a work of vandalism?
Yes, of course it will! I think that Dirty Corner is one of the best works I’ve done in the last 10 years. That it’s invited all this invective is somehow beyond my understanding. Honestly, I don’t get it, but it must have to do with the work—what it proposed, and Versailles, and what it proposes, and what it has proposed historically. There’s something of a problem between the two, but I don’t regret a single second of it. The next time I show the work, I will show it without the graffiti, but now where it is, it is there.
Would you ever exhibit again in France?
Of course I’ll show in France again! France is an incredible country with great poets, great artists, great philosophers, great thinkers. There are some narrow-minded bigots. But we’ll win. We’ll win.
Earlier, when you described your recent walk with Ai Weiwei through London to support migrant refugees, you called it “sculptural.” Is that art’s inevitable return to politics?
It’s not inevitable, but there are moments when it can have poetic value. There’s nothing simpler than a walk. I like that it can have another reading.
But what do you mean when you call it sculptural?
Sculpture is sometimes an object made, sometimes an object thought, sometimes an object or movement through space.
Or a non-object?
Or a non-object at all. Here, we described a path in a very simple way, followed by thousands of journalists, which was very bizarre. I link it very clearly to the idea that since we are not being ambivalent about the fact that this is in empathy with all the people walking across Europe, that they are performing an act of creative inventiveness in getting up and taking their families across Europe. What does it take as an act of inventiveness? That’s what art does. I see lots of parallels.
“My Red Homeland” emphasizes the exploration of color and materiality in your practice, and recently you started working with the blackest pigment on earth. Do you find these materials, or do they find you?
With Vantablack, this company that’s making this nano paint, it’s as if we found each other. For a long time, I’ve engaged in this notion of the absent present, the object that’s uncertain in this state that I call non-object. This material literally disappears. It has the weirdest… It’s so black. It’s as if you can’t see it, so it’s self-evident why I’ve been drawn to that. But there are all sorts of things. I once read a little piece in the newspapers that described spaces that are haunted and spaces that are spiritual as having a certain frequency. I ended up eventually making a work that was tuned to that frequency to see if it really was haunted and spiritual. I discovered that the space makes you incredibly anxious. It was sub-audible, so we ended up pumping 18 hertz into it. It works, but it didn’t quite do what—
It didn’t invoke any spirits.
It invoked other spirits, so we are highly sensitive, aren’t we? The slightest thing affects us. Art lives in that space of comfort and discomfort.