Our hands fly to our ears as a deafening blast reverberates through the halls of the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin.
A cannon is firing heavy bullets of burgundy wax into a corner in test runs before the opening of an exhibition of the sculptor Anish Kapoor. They splat against a pristine white wall and form a slimy pile on the polished floorboards.
A child who created this kind of noise and mess at home would be in trouble. A license to play, though, is the essence of being an artist for 59-year-old Kapoor. It’s part of “the process of coming to meaning,” he told a group of art critics during a break from putting finishing touches to the show.
At his latest playground, visitors will be offered ear plugs before contemplating “Shooting Into the Corner.” The cannon has to be loaded manually and will fire about every 40 minutes. It is extremely loud.
Red wax and pigments, mirrors and machines, movement and sculptures that develop and change are recurring themes in this spectacular -- and playful -- exhibition. “Kapoor in Berlin” comprises about 70 works and runs through Nov. 24.
The centerpiece is “Symphony for a Beloved Sun,” which takes over the sky-lighted central courtyard of the Martin Gropius Bau, a 19th-century museum. A flat, wine-red disc on a stand reaches 18 meters (59 feet) high, surrounded by four conveyor belts tipped up toward it, as though in salutation.
Slabs of burgundy wax move slowly up the chutes, pitch over the edge, and land on the floor with a thud. Lit only by the real sun shining through the skylights, the work struck me as more of a requiem than a symphony, almost apocalyptic.
The color suggests a dying sun, a dark reflection of the real thing. The work must also allude to Olafur Eliasson’s “Weather Project,” a giant yellow sun that the Danish-Icelandic artist installed in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003 and encouraged millions of visitors to bathe in its light. (Eliasson also exhibited in the Martin Gropius Bau in 2010, building a palace of mirrors and light in the hall.)
Kapoor said he is “much more interested in darkness where others are more interested in light.” His sun reflects stormier, more crisis-ridden times than Eliasson’s. It refuses to invite or enchant; instead it unsettles and asks questions.
“The Death of Leviathan” is a huge, largely deflated pile of brown PVC that sprawls from one room to another. Leviathan is a biblical monster that the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes used as a metaphor for the power of the state.
Here Kapoor is referencing his own work: His “Leviathan” in the Grand Palais in Paris in 2011 was a walk-in balloon whose reddish interior suggested a human belly. He dedicated that work to Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who was at that time in custody without having been charged with any offense.
Kapoor refuses to interpret his work.
“Do I know what I am trying to say?” he asked. “No. Do I want to know what I am trying to say? No.”
He realizes, he said, that his outsize PVC sculpture proposes the idea of the death of the state.
“I didn’t set out to do that,” he said.
(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the reporter on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.