Kiefer Retrospective

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Anselm Kiefer Centre Pompidou Retrospective Exhibition Paris 2015-6.

A massive retrospective of works by German artist Anselm Kiefer is currently on view at Paris’ Centre Pompidou -the first in France for 30 years, and runs through 18 April, 2016. It’s a poetic installation of nearly 150 works that encompasses every facet of his production, tracking his journey through various literary and philosophic worlds. Arranged both chronologically and thematically throughout 13 galleries, the presentation features 60 major paintings including many iconic works -from both public and private collections. An ensemble of artist books, works on paper, 40 display cases, and a site-specific installation has also been commissioned for the show, exploring themes of alchemy and Kabbalah. Curated by Jean-Michel Bouhours, the retrospective marks clear developments in the artist’s interests and techniques, which appear as distinct yet interrelated as chapters in a novel. Kiefer’s story touches on something that is simultaneously obscure, spiritual and universal. Beautiful, and significant.

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Vitrines view of Anselm Kiefer at Centre Pompidou, Paris 2015-16. Photo courtesy of Centre Pompidou.

Presented under glass, Kiefer’s vitrine environments address the fragmented world of a past industrial age, displaying arrangements of old machinery, photographs, filmstrips, and found objects like volcanic stones, ferns and leaden objects in the shape of anatomical organs. Rejecting the influences of abstract expressionism, pop art and minimalism, Kiefer is known for developing his own visual language, using materials such as lead, earth, broken glass, dried flowers and plant remnants. His canvases are lyrical studies of ruins, built up with layers of rubble, ash, sand, scavenged clothes and straw, and dense with historical and mythological symbolism. For Kiefer, the world is a cycle, and so there are positive and negative cycles. War, which he paints about time and again, is obviously negative thematically, but destruction contains within it elements of creation. Where there is darkness, there is also light.

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Anselm Kiefer, Margarethe, 1981, oil, acrylic, emulsion, and straw on canvas, at Centre Pompidou, Paris 2015-16. Photo courtesy of Centre Pompidou.

I’m interested in reconstructing symbols. It’s about connecting with an older knowledge and trying to discover continuities in why we search for heaven. ~Anselm Kiefer

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Anselm Kiefer, Abendland, 1989, synthetic polymer paint, ash, plaster, cement, earth, varnish, on canvas and wood, Courtesy White Cube Gallery London. 

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Installation view of Anselm Kiefer at Centre Pompidou, Paris 2015-16. Photo courtesy of Centre Pompidou.

The exhibition culminates in an immersive, site-specific installation. Dedicated to the French writer Germaine de Staël, widely credited with bringing the values of German Romanticism back to France through her contact with the likes of Goethe, Schiller, and Schlegel, the room is oriented around a painting of a black forest –Kiefer’s symbol for Germany. Before it, the gallery floor is covered with dirt, from which sprout bright little cardboard mushrooms bearing the names of great German thinkers, writers, and artists: Novalis, Johann Gottfried Herder, and Philipp Otto Runge. Here, Kiefer once more draws from the darkness the seed of transcendence, a moment of regrowth, healing, and nourishment surfacing from Germany’s troubled past -and one that underscores the transformative power of art.

Paris’s Centre Pompidou hosts “Anselm Kiefer,” a retrospective with works from the late 1960’s through the present, including paintings, installations, and collages. Here, the exhibition’s curator, Jean-Michel Bouhours, discusses the challenge of making Kiefer’s very complex oeuvre legible to the public, and the solution he came up with: spreading it out across 13 themed rooms. He looks closely at some of the show’s highlights, and talks about the thematic turning point in Kiefer’s career, the 80’s, when he moved from historical subjects to more mystical ones.

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Anselm Kiefer has been my favorite artist and a source of ongoing creative inspiration for the last three decades, and I have written about his work frequently within The Artful Blog. In fact, I began the blog five years ago this January, inspired by an Anselm Kiefer exhibition in NY. For more on Kiefer see previous posts: Kiefer Jerusalem, Kiefer Oceanic, Kiefer Mythopoetic, Kiefer Operatic.

A show at the National Library of France through 7 February, 2016, displays his handmade books, some of which are sheets of lead layered with sand, ashes, hair, plants and broken glass. The Royal Academy of Arts in London staged its own retrospective in 2014, and the Albertina museum in Vienna will feature more than 30 of his enormous woodcuts starting this March.