Kiefer Oceanic

It is a show about impossibilities… Putting a Euclidian diagram on a seascape is about the impossibility of capturing the sea. The sea is always fluid. The geometrical figure gives the impression of fixing it at a certain moment. It’s the same as us imposing constellations on the sky which, of course, are completely crazy and nothing to do with the stars. It is just for us to feel more comfortable. To construct an illusion for ourselves that we have brought order to chaos. We haven’t. I might have been born into a very literal sense of chaos, but in fact that state is true of all of us. ~Anselm Kiefer


Anselm Kiefer, 2011, Detail Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen, Mixed media and gynaecological instrument on photographic paper, h:107 w: 327 x d: 10 cm / h: 42.1 x w: 128.7 x d: 3.9 in, Courtesy White Cube Gallery, London 2011.

A new exhibition by the internationally acclaimed artist Anselm Kiefer is now on view at the White Cube Gallery Hoxton Square, London through 9 April, 2011. The exhibit features more than 30 works including books, a work on canvas and works on paper, each self-contained but displayed as a coherent and powerfully poetic installation. The work is mystifying, dark, brilliant. But we should expect nothing less from Kiefer, who has once again proved his worth as a master of making beautiful art out of all that is dark in the human condition.

The title of the exhibition, ‘Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen’ (The Waves of Sea and Love), is from a play by the nineteenth-century Austrian writer and poet Franz Grillparzer. The play re-tells the classical myth of Hero, the Greek priestess, and Leander, her lover, who swam the Hellespont every night to be with Hero but eventually drowned. The myth has inspired numerous writers and artists over the centuries, from Marlowe and Keats to Rubens and Turner, but Kiefer’s relationship to it is less explicit, more allusive. As in so much of his work, poetry and mythology are the entry point to a complex layering of reference, meaning and experience.


Anselm Kiefer, 2011, Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen, Mixed media and gynaecological instrument on photographic paper, h: 107 w: 327 x d: 10 cm / h: 42.1 x w: 128.7 x d: 3.9 in, Courtesy White Cube Gallery, London 2011.


Anselm Kiefer, 2011, Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen, Mixed media and gynaecological instrument on photographic paper, h:107 w: 327 x d: 10 cm / h: 42.1 x w: 128.7 x d: 3.9 in, Courtesy White Cube Gallery, London 2011.

Twenty-four panoramic seascapes hung three deep fill the side walls of the main gallery. Each work stems from a photograph, a paradoxical attempt to freeze the dynamic flux of the ocean, which Kiefer then subjects to various processes of transformation, notably electrolysis. Kiefer’s use of his materials brilliantly evokes the sea as both a terrifying mystery and thing of great beauty, giving a palpable sense of its motion and power. Superimposed on the surface of each work is a gynaecological instrument -a foreign body that is at once disruptive and unifying, sterile and fertile. The sublime is reworked with subtle reference to humankind’s atavistic relationship to the sea -a site of terror and awe and yet the place from which all life evolved.

Each of the five vitrines placed through the centre of the gallery contain one of the artist’s celebrated books. Here Kiefer has overlaid the seascapes with mathematical formulae and diagrams -a reference to Euclid, the father of Western geometry. As ever, the books are immaculately crafted; they stand in contrast to the large works with their delicacy in form and subtlety of expression.


Anselm Kiefer, 2011, I hold all the Indias in my hand, Mixed media on photographic paper,  h: 104 x w: 160 x d: 10 cm / h: 40.9 x w: 63 x d: 3.9 in, Courtesy White Cube Gallery, London 2011.

Upstairs, in a separate but connected series of small-scale works on paper, Kiefer continues his ongoing cosmological and existential explorations, immersing himself in the sea and locating himself at the centre of his work. The title ‘I hold all the Indias in my hand‘ is a quotation from the seventeenth-century Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo in which he writes of a man holding a ring that bears the portrait of his lover. The image acts like a mandala, a focus for meditation, and through intense contemplation of it he gains a burgeoning consciousness of the universe and the poet’s place within it. ‘I hold the starry plains of heaven,’ he writes, ‘I hold all the Indias in my hand.’

A fully illustrated catalogue, with a translation from Anselm Kiefer’s French lecture, ‘Marine’ (10 January 2011), given as part of a series to mark his appointment by the Collège de France to the Chair of Creativity in Art (2010-11), was published to accompany the exhibition.


Exhibitions of Kiefer’s paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations have been staged extensively over the past four decades and his work is included in the world’s most prestigious public and private collections. Recent projects include the Grand Palais, Paris and Guggenheim Bilbao. In 2007 Kiefer became the first artist to be given a permanent commission to install work at the Louvre, Paris since Georges Braque some 50 years earlier. In 2009 he created an opera, ‘Am Anfang‘, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Opéra National de Paris. Director Sophie Fiennes’ documentary on Anselm Kiefer, “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow” showcased at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010. Kiefer lives and works in France.