Inside Out, Red, The conservation of an Anish Kapoor powder-pigment sculpture

Andrew Smith


Raw pigment is the building block of color, whether used in the cave paintings of Lascaux or the spray-paint graffiti found on a city wall. Regardless of the medium, raw pigment enables color to communicate. But what happens to the strength of this communication when raw pigment becomes the sculpture itself and is threatened by human and environmental factors? The conservation of Anish Kapoor’s In Search of the Mountain presented a challenge and required the development of a specific approach to dry pigment application as a primary sculptural surface coating.

The works of Kapoor often induce perceptual disorientation in both large and small scale. Viewing a Kapoor powder-pigment sculpture, dense fields of saturated pigments blur the ability to discern flat from convex or deep hole from shallow depression. Through the use of dry pigments, the artist emphasizes the ambiguity of form. Traditionally, dry pigments are used in conjunction with a binder such as oil, wax, or egg yolk. The early sculptures of Kapoor, however, are void of these binders leaving the powder-pigment sculptures lightly shrouded in pure color near a state of volatility. Through collaboration, testing, and uncovered visual clues of the artist, a proper method was developed to revive and restore this work of art.

This paper will describe the various methods of testing and the discovery that guided a simple and efficient treatment, breathing life back into one of Anish Kapoor’s foundational early works.