Man is a piece at whose ends God and Satan are pulling, in the end, God is clearly the stronger,” after which the artist confides, “I, on the other hand, believe the outcome is undecided. ~Anselm Kiefer
As the New Year moves forward I find myself still savoring if not lingering amidst the not so far removed as yet extraordinary moments of last year still. And foremost in mind is the awe-inspiring darkly brilliant Anselm Kiefer and his staggering 39-piece oeuvre titled “Next Year in Jerusalem,” the viscerally beautiful, emotionally powerful, hermeneutical and poetic exhibition last month at the Gagosian Gallery New York -West Chelsea, that continues to blow-my-mind-and-break-my-heart-chakra-in-remembrance-of-great-things-past.
Anselm Kiefer, Fitzcarraldo 2010, Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, ash, thorn bushes, resin ferns, synthetic teeth, lead and rust on canvas in glass and steel frames 130 11/16 x 302 3/8 x 13 13/16 inches © Anselm Kiefer Courtesy Gagosian Gallery 2010.
Kiefer transformed the space into a monochromatic labyrinth of glass and massive steel vitrines each a montage of organic and inorganic material, curiosities, emerging like primordial reliquaries arranged around an immense steel container called “Occupations” holding 76 provocative large-scale photographs mounted on lead backed with burlap that hung from the ceiling like clothes hanging in a closet. Viewers were offered multiple perspectives into the imposing structure from several partly opened doors but could not enter. Large paintings incorporating collaged photographs and other elements on canvas, diverse embedded landscapes of mountains, sea and forest hung around the perimeter of the gallery that together constructed an enigmatic narrative.
Anselm Kiefer, Die Schechina, 2010 Painted resin dress, glass shards, steel, numbered glass discs, and wire in inscribed glass and steel vitrine 179 1/16 x 82 3/4 x 82 3/4 inches © Anselm Kiefer Courtesy Gagosian Gallery 2010.
Collectively the pieces infused the space with a haunting embodied presence inventing an intriguing third space between painting and sculpture that resonated. The cumulative effect is one of a mythical sanctuary, a forest where seemingly ancient materials are recast, re-purposed as transcendent elements on a grand scale. It did what fine art does best: it made me think, it made me feel, it made me remember, and it strengthened my belief in the power of art to transcend.
For Kiefer the connection to his art is spiritual, existential, which he alludes to in a recent interview “I grew up in a forest. It’s like a room. It’s protected. Like a cathedral… it is a place between heaven and earth.” “Life is an illusion,” concludes Kiefer. “I am held together in the nothingness by art.” Kiefer’s work to date embraces a complex array of subjects, including alchemy, mythology, philosophy, botany, Nordic myth, National Socialism, German Expressionism, Jewish mysticism, collective memory, Wagner, Goethe, the quest for spiritual redemption, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic, while using symbolically potent materials such as clay, lead, ash, straw, hair, wood, bone, glass, and gold leaf to masterful effect.
Anselm Kiefer: Next Year in Jerusalem Exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by cultural historian and novelist Marina Warner and Anselm Kiefer’s own writings.
Kiefer has had extensive exhibitions internationally including the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1987), Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1991), The Metropolitan Museum, New York (1998), Royal Academy, London (2001), Fort Worth Museum of Art, Fort Worth (2005) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006). In 2007, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presented a wide-ranging survey of recent work and Kiefer was commissioned to create a huge site-specific installation of sculptures and paintings for the inaugural “Monumenta” at the Grand Palais, Paris. In 2007, he became the first living artist to create a permanent installation at the Louvre since Georges Braque in 1953. In 2009, he directed and designed the sets for Am Anfang (In the Beginning) at the Opéra National in Paris. Director Sophie Fiennes’ documentary on Anselm Kiefer, “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow” showcased at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010.