5 Brilliant Facts About British Indian Sculptor Anish Kapoor


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Since bursting onto the contemporary art scene in the 1980s, Anish Kapoor has made a name for himself as one of today's top sculptors. The British Indian artist crafts meditative works that span medium and message, culminating in a diverse portfolio driven by the artist's own considerations. “I, in the end, make art for myself,” Kapoor explained.

Today, the general public predominantly associates Kapoor with his reflective sculptures—namely, Cloud Gate, a Chicago-based piece known colloquially as The Bean. His practice, however, is much more than mirrors. Typified by early experiments in explosive pigments to ownership of one of the “blackest black” hues, Kapoor has carved out a colorful career unlike any other.


Curious about contemporary artist Anish Kapoor? Learn about the sculptor's life and work with these five fascinating facts.


His early works illustrate an interest in color.


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Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai, India, on March 12, 1954 to a Punjabi Hindu father and a Jewish mother. In 1971, he moved to Israel, where he briefly studied electrical engineering. After this stint proved unsuccessful, he decided to pursue art. This prompted him to relocate yet again to the United Kingdom, where he enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and Design.

Though living in London, Kapoor's Indian roots would subconsciously continue to influence his practice—especially when it comes to color. In the 1980s, he found fame with A Thousand Names, an ongoing series of brightly hued sculptures that playfully sit in piles of powder pigment. Kapoor rendered these early works in a variety of tones, including yellow, blue, and red, a color that particularly appealed to the artist. “Red is a color I've felt very strongly about,” he said. “Maybe red is a very Indian color, maybe it's one of those things that I grew up with and recognize at some other level.”

While Kapoor has continued to experiment with color since this early series, in the 1990s, he started exploring another aesthetic: reflective surfaces. Using polished stainless steel, he began to craft mirror-like sculptures that invite the viewer to (literally) reflect. Most of these pieces are abstract in form and monumental in scale, including Cloud Gate, Kapoor's most well-known work.


He hated the popular nickname given to his most famous sculpture—at first. 


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Kapoor constructed Cloud Gate between 2004 and 2006. Inspired by the look of liquid mercury and intended to reflect the sky overhead, this slick, site-specific (it was made for Millennium Park in Chicago) sculpture comprises 168 stainless steel plates that have been seamlessly welded together. The massive piece measures 66 feet long and 33 feet high, and features a 12-foot-tall arch at its base. Because of its ovoid shape, the piece has come to be known as “The Bean”—a moniker Kapoor at first called “completely stupid.”

Over the years, however, the artist has come to embrace the epithet. In 2017, when speaking about the decade-old public sculpture, he noted that “it’s great for it to have a colloquial name, its own lingo,” as it “has an ownership of its own.” Interestingly, this concept of ownership has played a pivotal role in Kapoor's career, coming to a controversial head with one particularly prized color.


He owns a pigment.

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In 2014, Surrey NanoSystems, a company based in the United Kingdom, developed Vantablack, an unprecedented pigment that absorbs 99.965% of visible light. At the time, this material was deemed the “world’s blackest black,” making it an exciting innovation for color-concerned artists like Kapoor. In fact, Kapoor was so enthusiastic about Vantablack that he had a highly publicized hand in its development.

This collaboration with Surrey NanoSystems, however, had a catch: in exchange for his help, he sought exclusive usage rights to the material. As expected, this did not sit well with other artists, like Stuart Semple, who has since retaliated by developing even “blacker” blacks. And, yes, unlike Vantablack, Semple's pigments are legally available to everyone—except Kapoor.


He often collaborates with people from other fields.


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While Kapoor's work with Surrey NanoSystems is arguably his most famous collaboration, it is not his first. Throughout his career, the artist has partnered with people in all kinds of practices. In addition to fellow artists and designers—including an infamous pairing with Carsten Höller—this includes engineers (like the esteemed Cecil Balmond), architects (including the world-famous Herzog and de Meuron), and even luxury brands (like Bulgari).

After all, as Kapoor has noted: “It's the role of the artist to pursue content.”


His accolades include an unprecedented exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, honorary fellowships, and a knighthood.


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Kapoor's collaborative approach to art has undoubtedly served him well. Since winning his first major award in 1990 (the coveted Premio Duemila at the Venice Biennale), he has garnered all kinds of accolades, including the Turner Prize in 1991, the Genesis Prize in 2017, and several fellowships (granted by the London Institute, Leeds University, the University of Wolverhampton, and the Royal Institute of British Architects) in between.

Additionally, in 2009, Kapoor made history as the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2009, and in 2013 he even received a knighthood.

With so much under his belt, you may be wondering when the 66-year-old plans on slowing down. The answer? Not quite yet. “Being an artist is a very long game,” he said. “It is not a 10-year game. I hope I'll be around making art when I'm 80.”


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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.
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