Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan

by Alain Chivilò


It was the year 2011 (11 May – 23 June) in Paris, Grand Palais, when the monumental work “Leviathan” by British sculptor Anish Kapoor was staged on the occasion of the event Monumenta.

What is Leviathan? As per the encyclopedia definition, it was, in Phoenician mythology, an animal of primitive chaos. The name occurs several times in the Hebrew text of the Bible: in Isaiah it is defined as a wriggling and tortuous serpent, in Job in such a way as to make it recognizable as a crocodile, albeit with somewhat exaggerated and popular features. In Psalm 74 it is a symbol of the power of the pharaohs of Egypt and in the other texts, generically, of the powers hostile to God.

For artist Kapoor, the presence of this figure, translated into artistic conceptualities, does not want to give life to his mythological negativity but, rather the opposite. Made of inflatable PVC material, the installation was placed along the interior of the historic building of the last century in neoclassical and art nouveau style. Furthermore, it was not a sculpture visible only from the outside, but everything lived within it. In a certain sense the human being penetrated the creature and lived inside it without being fatally sucked in.

Connecting with the host building, so called the Nave site, the Leviathan virtually moves with the motion of the sun throughout the day. The brightness and perception in the work varied, providing different sensations from morning until sunset. The outside is the Kapoor color, a red, or rather, a blackness of red, the inside instead is red which, according to the brightness, increased or decreased in intensity. Through these combinations and effects, it seemed that a dark dance was taking place on the internal surface.

The Grand Palais with its steel, stone and glass structure permeated the monumental installation, creating a greater pathos that would never have been generated elsewhere.

The undersigned, as visitors, experienced the passage with the appearance that something was moving inside the Leviathan. At the entrance to the sculpture, the assistants were ready to help the people who had just came in because, according to personal observation, some kind of fainting had occurred. If the gaze was directed towards the ground, towards the event staff, or towards one side of the work, no effect occurred but, if before entering the work one was already looking at the inside of the work, there was a small feeling of faintness, like a sort of sudden lack of air, in the technical sense of the term.

As Anish Kapoor indicated, confirming: “inside the Leviathan, visitors have the sensation of having entered a living organism. It is almost like reliving the life of a small intruder in the body of a large animal, the choice of the red color for the interiors , in addition to the use of PVC material, gives transparency to the artwork which seems flexible. On top of the Leviathan there is a roof constructed using iron, steel and glass. It might look out of place, but it is the sunlight that shines through this space to project a network tattoo within the sculpture. The interconnection of lines, grids and geometric shapes is so perfect that one must experience the obstruction that occurs when they are inside to believe that the designs are not permanently imprinted on the inner surface. As the position of the sun and the intensity of the light change, a dark dance appears to take place on the inner surface. Everyone who witnessed the transition is convinced that the insides of the beast were actually moving”.

The visit to the Leviathan, especially for those who could dedicate a full day or two, amplified sensorial emotions in accordance with what nature provided in terms of weather forecasts. An internal installation sculpture but, linked to the outside in different effects of shine and luminescence.

Anish Kapoor Leviathan, 2011, PVC, 33.5 x 100 x 72 m, Grand Palais, Paris for Monumenta 2011.

In summary, as per Kapoor’s words: “Artists do not create objects. Artists create mythologies”.


©AC, NDSL, AM, Alain Chivilo

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