Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan – a whale of a show in Paris


On my not-to-miss list for this trip was the Monumenta show at the Grand Palais to see Anish Kapoor‘s Leviathan. Every year the French Ministry of Culture and Communication invites a leading artist to create a work that “responds to the exceptional architectural space”, which means that they are supposed to work with the volume of the building. No easy task – this is a vast belle époque exhibition hall. A collection of paintings or a few sculptures aren’t going to do the trick.

All these tiny people.... setting up for a group photo.

It looks like it's moving into the room.

With Leviathan, Kapoor took on the challenge of the Grand Palais and easily came out the winner. Made of thick PVC rubber stretched over a frame, it’s 35 metres high at its highest point.

I didn’t know much about Anish Kapoor, other than he’s the artist who created Cloud Gate – the fabulously entertaining “chrome bean” sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Very large breasts? Lungs? What's the analogy?

Allegedly Leviathan was “inspired by the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s idea of the state as an unwieldy, inchoate monster”. Well, OK, I guess so. In the Bible, it’s a sea monster. By the time Melville wrote Moby Dick, a leviathan was a large whale.

It becomes hard to talk about this. There are no details, no brushstrokes, expressions, use of colour. Just this big undulating form taking up the better part of the building.

Once inside the Grand Palais, it was hard to describe. A sea monster? Way too big for that. A big wow? Certainly. It was just a very strange feeling to be in the building with it given the distortion in proportions. We’ve become accustomed to big buildings or large objects such as airliners. But this was altogether different.

The other juxstaposition of course was this old very airy exhibition hall with acres of windows versus the big opaque purple blob. Interesting effects of sunlight on the leviathan.

It was overwhelming, on one hand the work of a megalomaniac, on the other just a big kid’s balloon. Maybe it was a big breathing blobby lung. Once inside – yes you could go inside of a section of it – would we start to hear the whooshing and wheezing of air?

Come in, join the party. It's like a Warhol happening. Maybe we need music by Pink Floyd. "Breathe" comes to mind...

Like you're inside a body....

I wondered how it was held up, how it was built. Who actually constructed it? And since it was only there for 5 weeks, I wondered what would happen to it afterward. Recycled? So many questions. Maybe that was the beauty of this piece. It invited questions about size, importance, permanence, living creatures (it did feel quite alive), colour, materials. Questions, but no real answers. Why would anyone build such a thing just for 5 weeks?

Ha ha, thank the French, thank Paris. They do this every year!


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  • […] over-the-top concoction is the Pont Alexandre III which connects the Grand Palais (site of Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan show) and the Petit Palais on the right bank with the Hôtel des Invalides on the left bank. When […]