Sitting in a Berlin gallery with a cup of tea, Anish Kapoor is clearly at home in a city that is currently staging one of his largest-ever shows.
The Britain-based artist says the exhibition, entitled "Kapoor in Berlin", is the best show he has put on, which may have much to do with the fact that he feels Germany has a huge degree of respect for the arts. "Germans have a rather healthy respect for the arts and artists," he says, an attitude that could "not be more different" from the British perspective.
One of the world's most highly regarded sculptors, Kapoor explains the vast show, which covers more than 3,000 square metres at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, is his concerted effort to stop it from becoming a retrospective, the idea of which he is keen to resist as long as he is alive and working.
"I don't see the reason to be doing a retrospective," he says. "Let somebody else do a retrospective for me. There doesn't seem any reason to dwell on what's been done. Rather, let's build on it and try and do something else. I'm trying to push my practice out there and to see, 'Can I do that? Will it go there?'
"A good half of the show is new, and that's always a risk. But that's the sort of idiot I am."
"Kapoor in Berlin" is a culmination of the artist's huge body of work of the past three decades, an extravaganza of colour, shapes and textures that its British curator, Norman Rosenthal, has called an "endlessly inventive theatre of sculpture".
A huge crimson sphere suspended from a metal frame, Symphony for a Beloved Sun, is a new creation that fills the gallery's main atrium.
Along with the other structures, it reveals the potential the show has to beguile the public, something Kapoor's audience has long come to expect of him. There is everything from a deflated whale, whose maroon mass spills across three rooms, to warty, cave-like innards fashioned from synthetic resin, huge geometrically fragmented mirrors, twisted stainless steel pillars and a gigantic, slowly rotating wax bell.
Crafted from sandstone, alabaster, Kilkenny limestone and fibreglass are also the protuberances and orifices, mountains and tomb-like structures that have become Kapoor trademarks, including the subtle bulge in the wall called When I'm Pregnant, all of which reflect the long and complex history of Britain's most celebrated sculptor in a show he says was "private and public in a very curious, sometimes uncomfortable mix".
Exhibiting at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, a neo-Renaissance pile in the centre of Berlin, was both a challenge and an inspiration for Kapoor, who had to deal not just with its complicated, decorative interior of late-19th-century ornate pillars and mosaics but also with its history: the Berlin Wall and the city's old SS headquarters are literally squeezed up against it.
"It's a building with a curious, difficult history that is inexorably linked to the history of Berlin," he says. "That's very potent. You can't make a show here without some reference to all of that. And it certainly makes a show here so much more interesting."
Symphony for a Beloved Sun is a nod to one of Kapoor's heroes, the late German sculptor Joseph Beuys, who exhibited in the same atrium space shortly after the building's restoration in 1982.
It also strongly alludes to the industrialised mass murders of the Nazi era, according to Rosenthal. German critics have been quick to make the same connection to the favourite among Kapoor's fan base, Shooting into the Corner, in which a cannon fires round pellets of wax into the far corner, staining the walls a blood red.
"We're pleased to say the wax stains can be removed when smeared with margarine," says the Martin-Gropius-Bau's director, Gereon Sievernich, highlighting just one of the many challenges the 59-year old artist's works have posed as he inspected a show that was still very much under construction just days ahead of its opening on May 18.
Other headaches include the transportation, by a convoy of lorries, of the huge pieces from Kapoor's studio in Camberwell, south London.
For Kapoor, the arrival of his works in the space for which they were conceived over a period of months, during which their creation dominated his life, brings with it a huge sense of achievement.
"Getting things out of the studio is great, very exciting," he says. "It's only when they are in the real world that they have a life of their own."
The sculptor, who has had major shows at the Royal Academy in London and the Turbine Hall in recent years, says he was attracted to Berlin in part by its strong artistic community, which includes major British artist friends of his such as Douglas Gordon and Tacita Dean; they, in turn, have been drawn there by the encouragement given to the arts. He also found enticing the feeling that "it has a sort of lifestyle apart - it's a city of the alternative".
"I expect today London is much more the centre of cultural activity than Berlin is," he says. "And yet, there is the sense that what happens here matters. It has a very interesting relationship between the local and the international."
One of his favourites - which he describes as a "mad, crazy idea" - is the deflated PVC whale, called Death of Leviathan. It takes up an entire side of the building, and reinforces Kapoor's sense of responsibility towards tackling major societal issues.
"It's a big deflated skin, like a huge dead whale, a Hobbesian reference to the state being a kind of leviathan beast that gives its control to the individual," he says. " Death of Leviathan may imply the kind of death or deflation of the state, this present condition we seem to be in all over the world where the individual has to take responsibility for the things that the state once took responsibility for."
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