WHO KNEW THAT MINIMALISM would have such generative power for those once seen as beyond its borders? It is as if all the women and "others" once presumed not to get it, got it--and got more of it than the founding fathers (Stella, Flavin, Judd) ever dreamed. This "it" was the abject body, as the art historian Michael Fried made explicit a decade ago when rereading his own previous take on Minimal art (or "literalism," as he termed it):
[L]iteralism theatricalized the body, put it endlessly on stage,
made it uncanny or opaque to itself, hollowed it out, deadened its
expressiveness, denied its finitude and in a sense its
humanness. ... There is, I might have said, something vaguely
monstrous about the body in literalism.
In fact, Fried's 1998 gloss plausibly accounts for the work Anish Kapoor was making that same year. Titles such as Her Blood or Wounds and Absent Objects seemed to leach into more neutrally named pieces such as Resin, Air, Space II, in which maroon resin begins to look like fluid bathing the (hollow) body trapped inside. Kapoor had been sprinkling salt on Minimalism's geometry for years, turning it inside out to reveal the viscera within. Perhaps seeing what Kapoor (or Mona Hatoum or Janine Antoni) did with Minimalism made Fried aware of the "monstrous" bodies latent in its abstract forms. To monstrate (demonstrate, remonstrate) is to show--the tawdry requisite of our trade in the visual. But it is also the "show" that performs the thrall of the fetish--a body (or part) that is both "in" the object and yet, ultimately, only a projection.
Kapoor's tightly selected ICA Boston survey brought Minimalism's monstrosity to mind with ostentatious reticence--big objects that hover at the edge of visibility, or project eerie reflections into the space between us and their actual surfaces, or ply waxy goop in a visceral deep maroon. This last is the newest phase in Kapoor's succession of material vocabularies ("the pigment language, the void language, the mirror language, the wax language," as he calls them), represented at Boston in the exhibition's eponymous work: Past, Present, Future, 2006. An enormous section of a sphere squats between the floor, wall, and ceiling, slathered with gallons and gallons of viscous wax and oil-based paint (which staff kept calling Vaseline); a motorized planing device systematically scrapes the sphere, seeming to shape its curves. The device completes its solemn rotation once every one hundred minutes, attesting to Kapoor's avowed desire for objects that are "self-manifesting," "unauthored," "self-made," and "auto-generating." (Indeed, one of Kapoor's most recent motor/wax pieces is titled Svayambh, 2007, Sanskrit for self-manifestation--a monstrance, to be sure.) Certainly, such preoccupations have precedents in Jasper Johns's paint-scraping devices, Richard Serra's castings into a corner, Matthew Barney's oozing materials, and even Gerhard Richter's "automatist" abstractions. But perhaps most telling is this work's relation to Mona Hatoum's important motorized piece +and-, 1994-2004, which critiques the very manliness of such mechanical "forming" activities with an ephemeral drawing in the sand that is canceled as promptly as it is made. Kapoor's mechanism shares Hatoum's ambivalence about the authorial gesture. Like an enormously slow potter's shaping tool, the mechanism of Past, Present, Future seems intent on making a perfect hemisphere, but it can never complete this task. The walls themselves get in the way, as does the wadded wax that accumulates on either side. It is not as deft as Hatoum's piece, but Kapoor's is striking for its conjunction of bodily mess with squared and trued technical perfection. As he says of Svayambb, in which a train track mechanism carries its mass of wax sloppily through the Haus der Kunst in Munich, where the work is on permanent display, "the building is shitting this thing."
Kapoor's willingness to put the excrement back into modernist hygiene might be one way of understanding the postcolonial contemporaneity of his work. …