Why Anish Kapoor Is Going After the NRA
Anish Kapoor has issued an open letter attacking the trigger-happy organization's use of an image of his best-known work in an alarming propaganda video.
Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004. Millennium Park, Chicago. © Anish Kapoor. All rights reserved, 2018. Photo by Susan Moody, Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
British sculptor Anish Kapoor yesterday issued an open letter calling out the National Rifle Association. Kapoor’s impassioned attack, issued through Gladstone Gallery and in collaboration with Everytown for Gun Safety, focuses on the notorious gun lobby’s unacknowledged use of an image of the artist’s 2004 public sculpture Cloud Gate to represent their liberal opponents in a terrifying promo video from last year.
The Clenched Fist of Truth, which is not in fact a Futurist painting but rather a video narrated (though clenched teeth) by NRA mouthpiece Dana Loesch, incorporates a montage of imagery intended to illustrate how gun owners are the victims of a grand conspiracy in which everything from education to entertainment to the news media is being manipulated to target the NRA faithful and, by dubious extension, ordinary freedom-loving Americans. The 60-second video (it feels a lot longer) features Kapoor’s work only fleetingly, as crowds in Chicago’s Millennium Park are shown moving around it in time-lapsed style, presumably massing to quash the Second Amendment.
Kapoor’s work, locally nicknamed “The Bean” because of its appealing rounded shape, is a seamless blob of polished stainless steel that presents viewers with a distorted image of the Chicago skyline. Consistent with the artist’s interest in pushing the technical limits of form, surface, and color to suggest the infinite and the sublime—remember the battle over his claim to exclusive use of the blackest-ever black?—it’s achieved international familiarity over the years, due in no small part to its appearance in countless selfies.
Quite why the NRA singled out this piece in particular is unclear, but Kapoor is understandably keen to avoid any association with the organization’s regressive agenda. And while Kapoor’s part in the gun control debate may be a relatively minor one, the dissemination and timing of his missive feel significant nonetheless. With the memory of the Parkland school shooting still fresh in the public mind, and in the context of an administration pushing against common sense by proposing to bring more guns into schools, the artist’s rage can only add to the groundswell of support for long-overdue legislation. It is, as he writes, “more urgent than ever that this organization is held to account for its ongoing campaign of fear and hate in American society.”
Kapoor’s letter in full reads as follows:
Last year an image of my work Cloud Gate (in Millennium Park Chicago) was used without my consent in a politicised advertisement for the National Rifle Association (NRA), entitled The Clenched Fist of Truth. The NRA’s ‘advertisement’ -as they describe the video on their own website – seeks to whip up fear and hate. It plays to the basest and most primal impulses of paranoia, conflict and violence, and uses them in an effort to create a schism to justify its most regressive attitudes. Hidden here is a need to believe in a threatening ‘Other’ different from ourselves. I am disgusted to see my work – in truth the sculpture of the people of Chicago – used by the NRA to promote their vile message. Recent shootings in Florida, Las Vegas, Texas, and a number of other towns and cities, make it more urgent than ever that this organization is held to account for its ongoing campaign of fear and hate in American society.
Cloud Gate reflects the space around it, the city of Chicago. People visit the sculpture to get married, to meet friends, to take selfies, to dance, to jump, to engage in communal experience. Its mirrored form is engulfing and intimate. It gathers the viewer into itself. This experience, judging by the number of people that visit it every day (two-hundred million to date), still seems to carry the potential to communicate a sense of wonder. A mirror of self and other, both private and collective, Cloud Gate – or the ‘Bean’ as it often affectionately referred to -is an inclusive work that engages public participation. Its success has little to do with me, but rather with the thousands of residents and visitors who have adopted it and embraced it as their ‘Bean.’ Cloud Gate has become a democratic object in a space that is free and open to all.
In the NRA’s vile and dishonest video, Cloud Gate appears as part of a montage of iconic buildings that purport to represent ‘Liberal America’ in which the ‘public object’ is the focus of communal exchange. Art seeks new form, it is by its nature a dynamic force in society. The NRA in its nationalist rhetoric uses Cloud Gate to suggest that these ideas constitute a ‘foreign object’ in our midst. The NRA’s video gives voice to xenophobic anxiety, and a further call to ‘arm’ the population against a fictional enemy.
The NRA’s nightmarish, intolerant, divisive vision perverts everything that Cloud Gate – and America – stands for. Art must stand clear in its mission to recognise the dignity and humanity of all, irrespective of creed or racial origin.
Gun violence in the United States affects every citizen of your country-all religions, all cultures, all ages. The NRA’s continued defence of the gun industry makes them complicit in compromising the safety of the many in favour of corporate profit. I support Everytown for Gun Safety and their efforts to build safer communities for everyone across the United States.
Anish Kapoor Artist
Read more about Kapoor's adventures in virtual reality with Marina Abramović.