You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Roberta Smith’ tag.

The new Barnes Foundation, in a new shell in Philadelphia (Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

The Barnes Foundation’s move from suburban Philadelphia to the center of the city caused art lovers lots of worry.

Devotees of this great polyglot collection, heavy with Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse, which the omnivore art shopper Albert C. Barnes amassed between 1912 and his death in 1951, were appalled by the idea. Barnes spent years obsessively arranging his installation cheek-by-jowl in the mansion in Lower Merion, Pa., that he built for the purpose and opened in 1925, and he stipulated that, after he died, it should remain exactly as it was.

In 2002 the foundation’s board — constrained by limits on attendance and public hours imposed by zoning restrictions — announced plans to relocate. Many people, including a group that sued to stop the move, were sure that it could only desecrate this singular institution.

Others, myself included, did not object to the move per se, but felt that faithfully reproducing the old Barnes in the new space, as promised by the trustees, was a terrible idea. To us it seemed time to at least loosen up Barnes’s straitjacketed displays, wonderful as they often were. And why go to the trouble of moving the collection to a more accessible location when the galleries were not going to be any bigger?

And yet the new Barnes proves all of us wrong. Against all odds, the museum that opens to the public on Saturday is still very much the old Barnes, only better.


Roberta Smith
New York Times


Pipilotti Rist’s “Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters),” top left, welcomed viewers to cushioned divans; right, Martin Kippenberger’s “Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika;’ below left, Marina Abramovic. (Clockwise, from top left; Sara Krulwich/The New York Times; Patrick Andrade for The New York Times; Ruth Fremson/The New York Times.)

When I walk through the Museum of Modern Art these days, it sometimes feels as if the place has come back from the dead — even if I’m not always so crazy about the life it happens to be leading. There’s often a confusing, disjunctive quality to it, especially where contemporary art is concerned, as the museum’s programming lurches from crowd-drawing, performance-art spectacles in the atrium to relatively dry and didactic exhibitions in its galleries. But at least there’s a pulse.

The museum feels much, much more animated than it did back in 2005 and ’06, when it — and we — were first adjusting to its slick new home on West 53rd Street. That structure, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi and built at a cost of $425 million, opened in November 2004, and over the next two years it appeared to many depressed MoMA watchers that we were witnessing nothing less than a major museum’s suicide by architecture.


Roberta Smith
New York Times

Few things are more poignant than a gem of a museum whose days may be numbered. So it was at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University on a visit Friday, days after the university’s trustees voted unanimously to trash the institution by closing it and auctioning off the 6,000 works in its collection. The action came without consulting either the museum’s own board of governors or its director, Michael Rush.

The Brandeis vote was an act of breathtaking stealth and presumption: a raid on a museum that supports itself, raises its own funds and has consistently planned wisely for its own future without leaning on the university. The trustees treated it nonetheless as a disposable asset.

On Friday the only signs of any disturbance were on the exterior of the Rose’s dainty, cast-concrete building, which opened in 1961, just 13 years after the university itself was founded. The museum’s glass front was festooned with posters that exclaimed, “Don’t Close the Rose” and “Fire Sale,” the remnants of a student sit-in the day before.

But inside, the art was, as usual, doing what art is always trying to do, speak to people directly about pleasure and beauty, about personal capacity and freedom, about how individuals acting on their own can find themselves, express those findings and make a difference.

The symbiosis that art creates among individual works, among people and among disciplines was everywhere evident. In the airy Lois Foster Wing, which, when completed in 2001, gave the museum its first large gallery space, an invigorating array of paintings and watercolors by Hans Hofmann — all from 1950 — recount a big year in the creative life of this important teacher of young Abstract Expressionists.

Here is an artist at the top of his form, giving his all. Any would-be painters in the gallery are reminded that gestural painting, seemingly the easiest kind to do, has a long history and must be approached with a great deal of insight and discipline. The show gives the kind of transformative personal encounter with art that will no long be offered to Brandeis students.

In the original 1961 part of the museum, “Saints and Sinners,” an exhibition drawn largely from the museum’s holdings, shows Brandeis interacting with the larger world of art and art institutions. It is part of a new series of shows organized by artists and curators from outside, in this case Laura Hoptman, a curator at the New Museum in New York. The works she has selected confirm the excellence of the Rose collection: pieces by Roy Lichtenstein, Bruce Conner, Philip Guston and Morris Louis. But beyond that, they create a daisy chain of links that invite close looking. Older artworks suddenly look fresh, recent ones seem utterly at home.

It is hard to know how anyone could destroy this museum, but that’s what Brandeis announced it would do last Monday. It’s hard to think of a comparably destructive — and self-destructive — move in the art world today.

The rationale, given by Brandeis, was the university’s dire financial straits: a 25 percent decline in its endowment, a $10 million deficit on this year’s budget and the reality that fund-raising will falter because of the market’s skid. You could almost feel the collective tremor of university museums around the country, as well as art dealers circling, indignant collectors demanding that the Rose return donated gifts of art, and prospective donors changing their wills.

Speaking to The Boston Globe, Lois Foster, a longtime benefactor, whose husband built the Lois Foster Wing barely eight years ago, compared it to a death. As the director, Mr. Rush, noted, even if the trustees reversed themselves or the museum was saved, who would ever again trust its autonomy enough to donate to it?

What the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, and the trustees don’t seem to realize is how their actions stain the reputation of Brandeis itself. He characterized the choice as “painful” and “difficult,” but it had all the earmarks of a desperate quick fix rather than a rational decision. He even said it in no way diminished Brandeis’s commitment to the visual arts, pointing out the university could turn the museum into an arts studio and study center. But the decision was devastating for the university’s art and art history departments, which have always relied heavily on the museum.

At the museum on Friday, Aliza Sena, a 19-year-old sophomore, said that graduating seniors in art and art history were especially traumatized. “It’s like the school telling them that their degree is fluff,” Ms. Sena said. She transferred this year from Tulane University after deciding that she wanted to major in art rather than business, and the Rose was a major factor in her choice.

“I’m devastated,” she said. “It’s crushing to figure out this school’s priorities, and sad that they can make a decision without consulting anyone knowledgeable. It really makes me reconsider being here.”

The outcry in the art world was also fast and furious, with more than a few people noting that the rapidly sinking art market made this an idiotic time to sell art. By week’s end Mr. Reinharz was backpedaling on the sale, saying it was not clear what would be sold or when. He was nonetheless adamant that the museum would be closed.

Of course he was. What better way to avoid the messy legalities of deaccessioning artworks, with the attendant denunciations from Association of Art Museum Directors and other professional organizations that monitor and weigh in on sales of individual works of art? (The association’s guidelines say that art works can be sold only to finance acquisitions.) If there is no museum, there are no guidelines to violate.

The Rose is an innocent bystander that is being punished for its excellence. Its budget is balanced; it has brought Brandeis nothing but glory and prestige at almost no cost. Throughout its short life, the museum has been an object of passion for a small group of benefactors who have paid for its building and two additions and have bolstered its endowment and donated acquisition funds. Perhaps most important of all, 80 percent of the art in the museum’s collection has been given to it by donors.

In addition to receiving almost no money from Brandeis, the Rose must do its fund-raising outside of the university’s donor base; but then, when the museum spends any of the money it raises, 15 percent of it must be paid to the university. In return for this Brandeis pays for the Rose’s light and heat.

And now the trustees have stepped in and said, in effect, “Thank you very much for your dedication, generosity and sacrifice, but this jewel is ours to dispose of as we please.”

But the greater the art, the greater number of people “own” it. The greater its power, the more it expands our lives. In a just and moral society, art is crucial to our understanding of freedom, difference and individual agency.

The message out of Brandeis University last week — to its own students and to the world — was that when the going gets tough, none of this matters. Art is dispensable.

Roberta Smith
New York Times

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The first thing to be said about the fiscal crisis facing the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, horrendous as it is, is that it could be a lot worse. The museum regularly overran its budget and dipped into its endowment to cover operating costs, which is scandalously irresponsible.

But let’s keep some perspective. The museum needs to raise roughly $25 million and embrace a new strategy to stabilize itself. And it can do it.

This institution has to be born again, wrestled into a new phase of its marvelous history by the people who brought it into being in the first place, with help from the rest of the art world.

But first there needs to be a truce. Both the siege and the bunker mentality must be suspended. People have to set aside their rage at one another and at outside critics. They should stop fretting about their reputations or grudges. Egos have to be left at the door.

Imagine the museum as a gravely ill relative deeply loved by an enormous squabbling family. Does that family really want to come together for the first time at the funeral, especially knowing that the patient could, with cooler heads, have been saved? No. Let’s come together right now. The director of the museum, Jeremy Strick, has to have support and input from his museum-director colleagues about ways to restructure his staff. The directors are known to be a fairly friendly group. The museum’s board, drained by writing last-minute checks to keep the wolf from the door, should sit down with collectors, former trustees and the past and present cultural leaders of Los Angeles. (Joel Wachs, who moved to New York from Los Angeles to lead the Warhol Foundation, comes to mind.)

They need to commiserate, listen to one another, draft a rescue plan and see what kind of money they can scrape together. Everyone needs to step up, including Los Angeles museum professionals, current and former trustees, artists and interested parties everywhere.


Roberta Smith
New York Times

Petah Coyne installation (Courtesy of Galerie Lelong)

The art world’s rolling-in-money days may be dwindling, but you’d never know it from the plethora of substantial gallery shows in Chelsea right now. Maybe the most habitually denounced of all art ZIP codes is staging a last grand stand, signaling its intention to go down fighting or at least to put a good face on things. Maybe it is just pulling out the stops during the fall art auctions, when lots of collectors are in town.

Whichever it is, this weekend Chelsea provides an ever-humbling, close to encyclopedic survey of ways of making and showing art. It runs the gamut from blue chip to schlock, die-hard hip to clueless, and good to pedestrian to egregious, often within close proximity. There are two- and three-gallery franchises (Gladstone, Gagosian, Paula Cooper, 303, Matthew Marks) and tiny holes in the wall, especially on 27th Street. Galleries continue to arrive as others relocate to the Lower East Side.

The array reminds you that the No. 1 rule for looking at art is: no rules. You must be willing to be betrayed by your taste, or put another way, to let yourself be dazed and confused by art that runs counter to your most dearly held ideals, agendas, prejudices and so-called standards.

My favorite show by a least favorite artist is Petah Coyne’s over-the-top exhibition of tarlike masses of black-red roses and entangled creatures both feathered and furred (stuffed, of course) at Galerie Lelong. It is a statement about environmental and material waste that itself wastes material. Ms. Coyne is pushing her Victorian aesthetic to the limit, so don’t miss it.

In Chelsea you can sense the over-enthusiasm for beautifully made but regressive Chinese art, especially on West 25th Street. Yet on the same street you may be drawn into Gana Art, as I was, by the paintings of Sa Suk-Won. In his first show in New York this 48-year-old Korean artist paints on calligraphy-covered chalkboards, reiterating neo-Expressionism with fans, whisks, headdresses and other Asian artifacts. The paintings remind you that any art idea is as alive as an individual artist can make it.

Roberta Smith
New York Times

A few minutes into “NY. 2022,” a performance piece at the Guggenheim Museum last Friday night, a young man and woman stripped naked, stepped into a frosted-glass shower stall and started pouring water on each other. As if on cue, two audience members got up and left the museum’s theater, huffily.

Too bad. They missed 45 minutes of ineffably touching, occasionally sentimental vignettes, music and seemingly mundane yet profound life lessons, culminating in the joyous first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth. It was played by an orchestra whose members rose, one by one, and disappeared into the wings as the music progressed, until the last few bars were played by a lone bassist. Suddenly, the sweetness of art, life and even death seemed rolled into one.

The performance — a collaboration between the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and the musician Ari Benjamin Meyers — was performed twice last weekend and, sadly, won’t be repeated. But it provides valuable viewing advice for the exhibition that occasioned it: the Guggenheim’s barely there, sometimes invisible exhibition, “theanyspacewhatever.” Namely, don’t leave early. And take it as a romantic comedy in six levels. After all, the show begins with a bridal-white movie marquee and ends with a revolving hotel room, complete with double bed and black silk sheets.

In between await works that may initially seem trifling, glib or unpromising, when you can find them. There are non sequiturs to read, jokes to get, videos to watch, shoes to kick off, colored lights to see, recorded sounds to hear and, yes, the bed, part of a hotel room by the German artist Carsten Höller. For a price and with a reservation, up to two people can spend the night. (Like so many must-dos in New York, it is sold out.) Yet as you move up the museum’s great spiraling ramp, just about everything here sneaks up on you in some way, expands in pleasure and meaning and also starts overlapping and ricocheting with everything else.

The exhibition “theanyspacewhatever” takes its title from a cinematic term coined by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze to describe anonymous shots of things you look at every day but don’t see, used as transitions in movies.

However, the Guggenheim’s rotunda, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, is not exactly “any space.” If you’re going to make elusive art that often looks like life, it certainly helps to do it inside a powerful work of art. You also could question the decision by Nancy Spector, the museum’s chief curator and the show’s organizer, to reconvene a group of usual suspects, who are also something of a clique, to represent a widespread, complex phenomenon sometimes put under the scary chapter heading “relational aesthetics.”

The 10 artists here — Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija, along with Ms. Gonzalez-Foerster and Mr. Höller — have exhibited and sometimes collaborated together since a show that Mr. Gillick and Mr. Parreno organized in Dijon, France, in 1995. In Ms. Spector’s defense, if you give 10 artists the run of the place, at least relatively speaking, perhaps they need to know one another and already have a working relationship.

The goal of “relational aesthetics” is less to overthrow the museum than to turn it upside down, wreaking temporary havoc with its conventions and the visitor’s expectations of awe-inspiring objects by revered masters. The larger point is to resensitize people to their everyday surroundings and, moreover, to one another in a time when so much — technology, stress, shopping — conspires against human connection.

The artists in this show and others like them extend a tradition of museum subversions that began with Conceptual Art in the 1970s and gained savvy and momentum with the institutional-critique phenomenon of the late 1980s. Emerging in the mid-1990s, the relational artists favored a more carefree approach that featured ephemeral situations, functional objects (often involving seating), architectural follies, amusing signage, elegant or arcane graphic design, performances, freebies (including food) and loosely planned group events…

Ms. Gonzalez-Foerster, who is represented by a light-and-sound installation using the dwindling Beethoven performance from “NY. 2022,” has also walled in one level of the ramp with a canvas screen, creating a white, tunnel-like space where you hear the sounds of flowing water. (This evokes another Wright masterpiece, the weekend house Fallingwater, built above a gushing stream…)

A parting caveat: the claims by these artists and advocates that their work can help heal human relations and create a sense of community, any more than any other art does, are hard to prove. Do I really need to take off my shoes and plop down on white pillows strewn on an orange carpet to watch “Chew the Fat,” Mr. Tiravanija’s surprisingly engrossing interviews with his co-exhibitors and other artists?

Or don a little miner’s light along with hundreds of other visitors while the museum turns down the lights for an hour for a group event by Mr. Huyghe (repeated on Nov. 17 and Dec. 8)? It was fun for the first few minutes, but the concept looks better in a book of smoky drawings of works in the show commissioned by Mr. Huyghe. The books sells for $10 in the gift shop, and the images can be ironed on to T-shirts. Definitely relational, this effort constitutes one of the best and most hidden visual moments in “theanyspacewhatever.”

It is invigorating to see a high-profile New York museum submit to such an experimental form of institutional loosening up, and in its premier, signature space. It feels like change. For the show’s duration those big letters on the front of Wright’s rotunda should read, “The Guggenheim Museum, Temporarily an Alternative Space, Inclusive and User-Friendly.”

Roberta Smith
New York Times

Despite signs to the contrary, conspicuous consumption is not what it used to be. Most exhibitions of decorative arts from the past, especially Europe’s monarchical age, drive that fact home in thrilling, and sometimes off-putting, fashion. But few shows do so with quite the dazzling vehemence of “Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure From the Palaces of Europe,” a stealth blockbuster at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A sumptuous sprawl of 170 objects borrowed from palaces and former palaces (that is, museums) all over Europe, it is the first in-depth survey of the arts and crafts of pietre dure. That Italian term, which translates as hard rock or hardstone, refers foremost to an intricate inlay of finely cut, highly polished slices of semiprecious stones: agate, lapis lazuli, jasper, carnelian, alabaster, rock crystal, amethyst.

Pietre dure could be flat. Fashioned into radiantly colored geometric patterns, floral designs, landscapes or mythological scenes, it was incorporated into tabletops, cabinets of all sizes, wall panels, portable altars, jewelry boxes and other furnishings. Such works could also be in the round: carved hardstone sculptural busts, statuettes, vases, snuff boxes, cameos, jewelry and miraculously thin-walled bowls…

And yet pietre dure, which began its ascent in Renaissance Italy, had an almost self-effacing quality. Like Chinese scholars’ rocks or topiary, it is self-evidently a collaboration of human and natural ingenuity; it should appeal as much to rock hounds as to the art-fixated. Pietre dure was a quintessential art of the Renaissance, with its expansive attitude toward science and knowledge in general, and its optimistic view of human possibility. This art faced outward, exploring natural history while pushing manual craft to rarefied extremes…

Stone had been treasured and constantly reused for millenniums, as suggested by the show’s small opening gallery devoted to “origins.” The displays reach back to ancient Egypt, in the form of a lion-size sphinx, and ancient Rome, in a tiny perfume bottle in swirling agate, and to 12th-century Italy, as a hefty jug in rock crystal from a Norman workshop attests. Closer to home is a small, house-shaped reliquary casket tiled and shingled in fiery shades of pietre dura. It comes from the workshop of the Florentine sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio, dating from around 1490…

At the show’s heart is the constantly shifting use of stone, especially the flat pietre dure. Sometimes stone is exploited for its own fabulous color and texture, as in the bold geometric tabletops of papal Rome or a Venetian cabinet that is really more a rock-solid architectural model than it is furniture.
Sometimes delicacy prevailed, especially in pictorially inclined Florence. There, the stones’ textures, colors, shadings and inherent light were extensively micromanaged into descriptive schemes that often challenge painting. Examples include the fabulously accurate undergrowth of grape vines, butterflies and birds on a table with Eucharistic symbols, and a tiny austere landscape in which single pieces of lapis and agate form sky and hills. Inlaid details like a white church and green poplars sharpen the implicit spatial recession.

Sometimes the two approaches — stone as stone, and stone as paint — are pitted against each other. In a panel depicting Abraham and Isaac, description and spatial logic are disrupted by the wonderful textures of the stone, which turn the image into a kind of puzzle. The Castruccis, an Italian family that worked in the court of Rudolph II in Prague in the early 17th century, fine-tune this effect with striking contrasts of colors and textures that imbue small, Breughel-like scenes with an explosive energy bordering on animation.

The dialogue between pietra dure and painting intensifies, as trompe l’oeil comes into fashion. On several occasions in the exhibition, pietra dure “paintings” hang beside the actual paintings on which they were based. Their stay-fast colors and paint-by-numbers crispness tend to carry the day, especially in a view of the Pantheon from the 1790s. As an antidote to the general refinement, one parting shot is a game table from the early 19th century: its chessboard, made from ancient marble, is set in a slab of petrified wood whose textures resemble the splatterings of contemporary spin painting.

“Pietra Dure” has something for every taste, meaning that almost all of us will find something in it that seems disconcerting or ugly in its excess. But over all, this extraordinary show suggests why the quest for beauty may be hardwired into humans. Nature habituated us to beauty, and we feel driven to equal its high, inspiring standards.

Roberta Smith
New York Times

“Snow Storm — Steam Boat Off a Harbor’s Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “J. M. W. Turner” is a beast of a show. With nearly 150 works in oil and watercolor spanning more than half a century…

In the history of Western painting, Turner looms large as a prodigiously gifted, productive and innovative figure. His complex legacy reflects his interests not only as an artist but also as a poet, naturalist, philosopher and lover of music and theater. His paintings of storms at sea or Alpine plunges are early examples of the natural sublime; his squalls of paint presage the Romantics, the Realists, the Impressionists and even the Abstract Expressionists. He built luminosity into his canvases by painting on white grounds (rather than the traditional black), and he used color as color and paint as paint more directly than anyone before him. His works pop out when seen one at a time in a museum collection. How could anyone paint so abstractly so early? Victoria was barely on the throne!

Seeing Turner’s work in bulk is another matter. His innovations can be dulled by its repetitiveness and unvarying skill. His squalls of paint were usually intended as quite realistic pictures of heavy weather, as signaled by the fussily accurate bits of ship wreckage drifting by. And anyway, innovation, influence and precedence don’t necessarily make a work compelling when you’re standing before it.

In the present Turner’s achievement still seems to be up for grabs, something to fight about, which adds excitement to the ups and downs of the Met show. There may be fights about which are which.
Turner (1775-1851) rode the cusp of art history as if it were a great wave crashing through one of his seascapes, and this show rides it with him…

Almost from the beginning, Turner’s work was both admired and disparaged, as several labels in the exhibition attest. John Ruskin, by far his greatest admirer, often ran out of superlatives. Yet by 1801 one critic was already complaining about illegibility and “an affectation of carelessness…”

This show may be wearying because there is something imperious and impersonal about the sheer force of Turner’s ambition. It is almost as if his drive to capture nature or history in motion was so intense that it didn’t leave room for anyone else, including the viewer. Maybe that’s why despite all his hard work and even the majesty of his vision, you can emerge from this exhibition impressed but oddly untouched, even chilled.

Roberta Smith
New York Times

Like most consummate stylists Christopher Wool tends to get away with aesthetic murder. He shares with artists as diverse as Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Alex Katz, Agnes Martin, Helen Frankenthaler and Raoul Dufy an ability to pull off suave-looking paintings with a display of effort so seemingly minimal as to be irreverent.

Mr. Wool began his career using stencils and rolled-on patterns but took up the brush again in the mid-1990s. Since then he has experimented with different ways of mixing hand and machine, unique and reproduced, hot and cold. He seems to want to prove that it is possible to be a De Kooning acolyte without relinquishing his postmodern credentials. The result is a form of Abstract Expressionism lite.
In this, his 13th solo gallery show in New York, Mr. Wool sprays on black lines, smears them into fields of brushy gray and sometimes rubs them out entirely before repeating the process. This layering of studio and street — of macho yet ghostly, half-meant bravura painting and lax, abstract graffiti — has an undeniable liveliness. The primary energy comes from the lines, which vary in thickness and suggestion (roadmaps, cursive writing) and are often fringed with drips that defy gravity. Painterly incidents pile up, but the surface never thickens. More is definitely better as exemplified by the densely composed central painting in the second gallery.

Mr. Wool seems to have deliberately overhung the show. If you don’t sort out the better paintings, they all start wearing thin. Discernment in the face of overproduction or satiation may be part of the point.

It helps that the paintings alternate with large silk-screen works in porous shades of dark gray or sepia. The best of these resemble clusters of cells, dust particles and stray hairs seen through a microscope; fashioned partly on a computer, they owe something to the paintings Albert Oehlen made in the mid-1990s. Other silk-screens maintain the De Kooning effect, but with pale divisions and out-of-sync brushwork that suggest cutting and pasting. With their Benday dot surfaces signaling mechanical reproduction, the silk-screen works are more layered, satisfying and skeptical than the paintings and truer to Mr. Wool’s barbed devotion to his medium.

Roberta Smith
New York Times

From a review of Anish Kapoor’s new show at Boston’s ICA:

Mr. Kapoor shouldn’t be considered merely derivative. He combines too many disparate strands of art, thought and culture, and he does it seamlessly. He is a brilliant and unpredictable if sometimes ingratiating synthesizer who has simultaneously refined, repurposed and betrayed some of the dearest beliefs and most despised bêtes noires of late-20th-century sculpture.

It has probably aided this project that Mr. Kapoor, who is 54, did not begin life in a Western culture. He was born and grew up in Mumbai when it was still called Bombay, and in 1973 moved to London, where he studied art and then took up residence. He is a decade or so older than most of the Young British Artists, who took the art world by storm in the early 1990s, and his sensibility is markedly different: he greatly prefers gentle seduction to shock tactics.

His sculpture is in many ways one long ode to the modernist monochrome and its emphasis on purity and perception, enacted in three-dimensional space. It carves, colors and complicates space in different ways, adding interactive aspects and pushing that purity back and forth between votive and technological, East and West.

Mr. Kapoor has paid homage to Minimalism’s faith in weightless volumes, abstraction, specific materials, saturated color and simplicity of form. But he has also explored different materials’ capacities for visual illusion, the biggest of Minimalism’s no-nos and a tendency that encroaches on territory pioneered by installation artists like James Turrell. Mr. Kapoor’s use of dry pigments echoes Process artists like Alan Saret and Wolfgang Laib, although it has a long history in Hindu rituals.

And despite the high degree of abstraction in his art, living form, if only the viewer’s body, is always implied. Perhaps this is why Mr. Kapoor largely bypassed the immense installations and environments favored by so many sculptors of the last 30 years. Instead he has displayed a knack for compressing his various effects into reasonably portable if not exactly domestic-scale objects, even if they are temporarily set into walls or floors. Their scale can make them seem all the more magical, focused and intimate.

Roberta Smith
New York Times