Tuesday, November 04, 2014
ANSELM KIEFER AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY
Like or dislike do not apply and Wow, though appropriate, is unacceptably lightweight for such weightiness. Weighty is the word that keeps coming to mind as I try to gather my impressions of this stunning - as in stunned by a heavy blow to the head - exhibition. Literally heavy: sky's-the-limit kilos of lead, plaster, clay, sand, ash, wood, straw, brick-thick slabs of paint and other stuff making the stately walls of the R.A. groan in pain, awe or ecstasy. Weighty as in authoritative, serious, ponderous.
Anselm Kiefer is a heavyweight in a lightweight contemporary art world. His works are like slow-burning coals in that world's flashy fireworks. Do I like his art? Like - a word now and forever degraded by FaceBook and other social media - does not apply. Kiefer's work is anchored, you could say trapped, in gravity, in gravitas. It aims at immortality with iron-willed determination and pre-empts the destructive effects of time by imitating them.
I'm going to risk stereotyping and say that you can't separate Kiefer's work from German history and culture. Wagner and Nietzsche could be the soundtrack to this show but a thoughtful silence is better. German identity - historical, cultural, political, mythological, psychological, personal - is a theme that Kiefer has intensely and consistently explored in unorthodox, often controversial ways and although he's travelled the world and now lives in France it seems to me that, wherever he goes, he carries his German-ness like a heavy back-pack which is both a burden and a useful source. Whether or not his astonishingly productive, energetic and successful career owes something to the Hero-As-Conqueror Teutonic gene, Kiefer demonstrates that you can conquer the world without invading and occupying it (turns these into art-actions). If proof is needed of his artistic dominance take a look at the list of some honours Anselm Kiefer has received:
Grand State Prize for Fine Art, Germany 1983. Wolf Foundation Prize in the Arts, Israel and Goslarer Kaiserring, Germany 1990. Praemium Imperiale, Japan Art Association 1999. Federal Cross of Merit and Austrian Decoration for Science and Art 2005. Peace Prize of the German Book Trade 2008. Adenauer-de-Gaulle Prize (in recognition of his contribution to cultural dialogue between Germany and France) 2009. Chair of Artistic Creation, Collège de France 2010. Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, French Ministry of Culture 2011. Leo Baeck medal for German-Jewish reconciliation, Leo Baeck Institute, New York 2011.
Among the pieces in this vast exhibition that my egocentric eye focused upon were, of course, Kiefer's giant books. I'd only seen some in reproduction before and the materials themselves, up close, excited me: watercolour on plaster on cardboard! Pages as tall as I am! Pages you need a weight-lifter's help to turn. Allright then, I won't make the pages so heavy. And those electrolysed lead books, so fabulously distressed... No way. No lead. No lead poisoning.
To make up for my shortcomings as art reporter, here are some relevant links I found after writing this post. If any of them don't open when you click on them, copy/paste the link into your browser.
Posted by Natalie d'Arbeloff at 5:56 am
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This is Germany! I am so blown away by Kiefer's work and am so jealous of you that you got to see this exhibit!
Hattie, I wish it were possible for you to jump over here! I'd go back and see this show with you and then talk about it over coffee, tea, wine,beer or any combination of those.
"Heavy" and "Germanic" are the perfect words to describe the work of this artist. Illustrated perfectly by the photo showing some of the viewers at the exhibit who seem weighed down by the work. Great review, Natalie.
Bruce, heavy, yes but his work is also deeply impressive, original and thought-provoking. I hope my review didn't seem like I was dismissing him. 'Germanic' he certainly is but the way he has explored that identity in his work is definitely worth looking into. If you follow the links I've given, there's a lot of very interesting information and video interviews with him.
Absolutely great review, Natalie! No apologies needed, I think it's the best I've seen. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I too love his books, lead or not, though I've only seen them in books and online. I do wish I could be there to see it moe than any show right now, and talk about it with you over coffee, sigh.
Thanks very much, Marja-Leena. It would be really great to be able to talk with you in person about this show and our own work as well, of course. What a pity that great distances still can't be travelled in a few minutes in some high-tech time machine. Maybe it will happen one day?
I am truly impressed with the wonderful writing in this review -- and the insightful, thoughtful analysis you present. But where will you put the giant prints you are determined to make?
Hello Anne, glad to see you and many thanks for this. Your question is very relevant and it's one I ask myself. Not being a world-famous artist with buyers who are billion/millionaires, any artwork I undertake which goes beyond the portable is likely to end up in that limbo where all unsung art - great, mediocre or bad - resides. Unless after my death somebody goes through my stuff and decides I should be canonised, included in the artworld A-list. Anyway, my answer to your question is that I'm just going to go ahead and do it and not worry about where to put prints which won't even fit into my small studio.
Anne, I meant to add that I've tried many times to connect to your blog but cannot get the link to open. The thingy goes round and round and never stops. Have you changed something in the link?
Fantastic report and pictures, and I too am jealous! I'd love to see this show with you, Natalie, and talk it all over.
Beth, so glad to see your comment, I miss your visits here. Throw away the smart(?) phone and do it in the old way, whatever that was! I too wish you could have seen this show with me and also the fantastic Rembrandt exhibition, which I'll post about tomorrow.
Thanks for this great review Natalie; i'm relocating the Berlin in the new year so the issues explored in these extraordinary paintings are of particular interest right now. I'll be popping back to London fairly frequently though, so look forward to catching up next year and i'll be able to keep in touch with what you're doing via the blog! Phil
Phil, that's quite a radical move! I hope it will be good for you in every way and I look forward to your news from Berlin next year. If you want to see more Kiefer, you'll have to get access to his 200 acre home/ estate/installation in France!
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