Kapoor’s Red Belly, Hadid’s UFO Amuse in Paris Shows: Review

The interior view of "Leviathan" (2011) by Anish Kapoor. Photographer: Didier Plowy/Ministere de la Culture et Communication via Bloomberg

Tired of life? Ready to crawl back into the womb? Paris may have the answer to your wish.

Anish Kapoor, the Indian-born U.K. sculptor, has created a giant walk-in balloon whose reddish interior suggests a human belly. Looking at it from the outside, you notice that the inflatable structure consists of not one but three spheres resembling the clubs symbol in a deck of cards.

Kapoor’s work is the fourth installment of a series, grandly called “Monumenta,” in which artists are invited to use the vast space beneath the glass-and-steel dome of the Grand Palais for a solo exhibition.

The series started in 2007 with a landscape of leaning towers and art-filled cubes by Anselm Kiefer of Germany. In 2008, U.S. sculptor Richard Serra presented an ascetic row of tall steel sheets. Last year, an installation with old clothes by the French artist Christian Boltanski suggested an extermination camp.

Kapoor’s 100-meter-long, 17.35-meter-high creation is the biggest so far. Even if you find the work simplistic, it’s still a technical achievement.

Stitched together out of an ultra-light, ultra-resistant material, the three balloons are kept under constant pressure to prevent them from imploding. Hidden ventilators make sure that the visitor gets enough fresh air to breathe.

Kapoor has named his sculpture “Leviathan,” after the biblical monster. In the eponymous 1651 treatise by Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, Leviathan is a metaphor for the absolute power of the state, which he defends.

Kapoor doesn’t agree. He has dedicated his work to Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who was detained by the police on April 3 and is being held in custody at an unknown location without having been officially charged with any offense.

“Leviathan” is on view at the Grand Palais in Paris through June 23. The main sponsors include JTI France, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, Banque Neuflize OBC SA and Boston Consulting Group Inc. Information: http://www.monumenta.com.

Flying Saucer

As it happens, another walk-in sculpture has re-emerged in Paris after a premature demise due to lack of funds. “Mobile Art,” an enormous white shell that some people have compared with a flying saucer, was designed in 2008 by the Iraq-born U.K. architect Zaha Hadid, the first female recipient of the Pritzker Prize.

The futuristic pavilion was supposed to travel throughout the world as a showcase for Chanel SA, the French fashion house. It did dock in Hong Kong and New York’s Central Park, then money ran out. The shell was unceremoniously dismantled, and the 413 plastic panels were stored away in a Paris suburb.

Daring Hadid

It has been resuscitated by the Institut du Monde Arabe in whose courtyard it now stands, displaying, instead of dresses, handbags and perfumes, maquettes and images of Hadid’s daring projects.

Although many of her projects have never been built, the show offers fascinating glimpses into the fertile imagination of an architect who often preferred extravagant dreams to practical considerations.

The IMA was designed by another Pritzker Prize winner, Jean Nouvel. Asked how he felt about the intruder in his courtyard, an assistant was quoted by the daily Le Monde as saying: “We could have vetoed it. As long as it doesn’t stay forever, it’s welcome.”

In November, “Mobile Art” will move to Roubaix in northern France as an outlet of the IMA for temporary exhibitions. The show is sponsored by Fayat SA. Information: http://www.imarabe.org or +33-1-4051-3838.

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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