I thought it felt like I was slowly being digested in a monster’s stomach. My sister said she thought it was akin to what it must have been like in the womb, pre-birth. My husband said it was like he had landed on another planet. None of us had experienced anything like it before.
Each year an artist is invited to do something with the huge exhibition space in the Grand Palais, just off of the Champs-Elysees. This year, Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor was given the task and quite literally filled the space with his creation ‘Leviathan’, a giant inflated bulbous, sensual and sensuous structure that could be experienced both inside and out.
I was certainly not prepared for my first experience with Leviathan. My sister had seen the warning signs (yes, literally) advising visitors about the pressurised environment we were about to enter. I had not and went through the revolving door unsuspecting.
The shock of going from the day light into a darkened space combined with the impact of feeling the pressure of the air inside the giant balloon stopped me short. However, once my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, I could release my sister from my tight grip of fear and take in the huge chambers. After the initial fright, or maybe because of it, it was thrilling and beautiful – deep red, rounded, soft, cozy, warm. I felt compelled to reach out and touch the sides and feel the smoothness. It felt like it was made out of thick but squishy inner tube rubber.
However, after a few moments of bliss, the pressure started to get to me. I felt like I was being digested, the pressure slowing crushing my body. I thought my head might explode. I needed to get out fast or I was going to pass out. I wasn’t the only one. A few people were making hasty exits. On my way out, I noticed a line a wheel chairs just outside the front entrance suggesting that others had not made it out in time. Not everyone was as affected. My husband said he felt different, but not uncomfortable.
After a few moments to recover we went to view the monster from the outside. The exterior was also soft and rounded, but in the daylight under the glass roof, Leviathan looked deep purple rather than red.
The size is hard to describe other than to say it was huge. The exhibition space in the Grand Palais is the length of two soccer/football fields and half a field high, the highest like it in Europe (to see the inside of the Grand Palais see this cool 2 min video). Leviathan filled this space.
Inside the work felt intimate, but outside you were dealing with a giant. However, it was a big, friendly giant that begged you to interact and play with it – and people were. They were running their hands along it, trying to get under it, running around and between parts of it, taking silly pictures of themselves interacting with it.
How the simple curves of the piece interacted with the architecture of the art nouveau structure of the Grand Palais was also beautiful. A piece like this can make you remember that great art can fill a place inside of us that nothing else can, even despite a little pressurised discomfort.