Art in Paris: A Masterpiece


Anish Kapoor's Leviathan at Monumenta, Grand Palais, Paris 2011

Inside Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan.

A few years ago I was at an art exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, one of the most important museums in Paris. The show was about spirituality in art or something like that. I am a bit vague on the details because as I was strolling through the exhibition, I was falling in love. Yes, it was one of my first dates with the Frenchman. But it was also my first encounter with the work of Anish Kapoor. Kapoor is an Indian-born artist who lives and works in London, where he is one of the leading figures in the contemporary art world.
While I was strolling around Beaubourg like a lovestruck puppy, the powers that be were hosting the world’s first Monumenta in the Grand Palais. What is Monumenta? Once a year an important contemporary artist is invited to fill the nave of the Grand Palais with a temporary installation. The results have been stupendous: monumental works of art inside a beaux arts glass jewel box of a building.

Artist Anish Kapoor with actress Charlotte Rampling

The artist with actress Charlotte Rampling.

Do I even need to say that I was among the first in line to buy tickets when I heard that Anish Kapoor had been invited as this year’s Monumenta artist? His piece is called Leviathan, and it is the most important work of contemporary art I have ever experienced. That is what he has created: an experience—one that involves walking into the very center of a balloon that is large enough to fill most of the Grand Palais. The sensation is breathtaking. And overwhelming. As you spend time in the space, you begin to notice that the light is changing in intensity. The air feels alive and the shadows of the steel beams from the Grand Palais play lightly across the surface.

Anish Kapoor's Leviathan at Monumenta, Grand Palais, Paris 2011

Inside the Palais.

Upon exiting the balloon, you find yourself in the nave, surrounded by the impressive architecture and the flood of light from the glass ceilings as you marvel at the structure—several stories high—that is the exterior of the balloon. Monumenta is not an easy challenge. The American artist Richard Serra grossly underestimated the size of the space, and his usually overwhelming sculptures seemed inconsequential. But this year Anish Kapoor got it right with a work worthy of the greatest masterpiece in any Paris museum. But run, don’t walk, because this show is only on view until June 23.
If you enjoy the exhibition and would like to see more of Kapoor’s work, the Kamel Mennour gallery is featuring some of his best pieces, which are also more likely to fit into your living room. Another grouping can be seen at the chapel of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the 6th Arrondissement. But, to be perfectly blunt, this is my least favorite of his work. Though the chapel itself is a rare treat worth a visit.