Anselm Kiefer is having a new show in at the White Cube. Although he had a show earlier this year, there, this will be the largest of his work in London. The show, which will be called “Il Mistero delle Cattedrali” references a book by Fulcanelli, believed to be a pseudonym for a mysterious French Alchemist. His pseudonym being a play on words: the combination of Vulcan, the ancient Roman god of fire and El, a Canaanite name for God.
Although the exhibition, which mainly contains painting and sculptures out of his now signature lead and ash, alludes to ideas from the philosopher’s stone to the second world war, something he said in a Guardian interview to do with the exhibition, struck me as a fundamental building block in a lot of his work:
“Art has something which destroys its own cells,”*
I saw Kiefer’s Heaven and Earth exhibition when it came to SFMOMA in 2007, and was blown away by the rawness, even destruction which his paintings seem subjected to. His work explores German myths, often that have been contaminated by Nazi preoccupation with them, Wagner’s mythic structures, and the idea that alchemy and myth are human life-lines to attempt to bring some coherence to our meaningless worlds. But his occupation with myths look at rebirth and creative destruction- figures in rooms of fire, wandering through dark woods where anything could happen- as much as they look at ways to escape- searching the constellations or creating ladders to the heavens.
In an interview about his last show, also at the White Cube, a series of seascape photographs that are treated so that they will change as they are exposed to air, and named after the play, Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen (The Waves of Sea and Love), about the Greek priestess Hero and her lover, Leander, who drowned while swimming the Hellespont to be with her, Kiefer said it was “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.”
Kiefer is interested in exploring the past as way to move forward, “Germans want to forget [the past] and start a new thing all the time, but only by going into the past can you go into the future[.]”
This exhibition explores alchemy, but also the idea of the Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. Now closed, it was built on land once belonging the medieval Knights of Templar, and was designed by Albert Speer to be Hitler’s gateway into Europe, as a symbol of his ‘world capital’, Germania. It also re-looks at Kiefer’s preoccupation with knowledge. His most famous work, is a lead book, with wings that stretch out to about 6″, and versions of these reappear in this exhibition, dotted with airplanes, and using towering volumes, with smaller wings. He has talked previously about the more we know, the more we don’t know, but these sculptures seem to investigate the idea that the more we know, the more we are also capable of theorizing or inventing stories about what we don’t know, whether they are true or not. He seems to be investigating the power in these false stories, as destructive as they may be, as a way forward.
Anselm Kiefer is showing at the White Cube from 9th December to the 26th of February.
See the White Cube site here
This article references:
For a video of Kiefer talking about his work, see here
For more on Kiefer and myth, see the book Anselm Kiefer: On Jerusalem with text by the fairytale historian Marina Warner.
All photos from the White Cube website, as above.
*he was talking in reference to Damian Hirst and his position as, what Kiefer calls an anti-artist, selling his work directly from Sothebys, something he did as the economic crash was happening to the tune of 93m. Kiefer liked the ballsyness (yeah, probably not an actual word) of this action, while denouncing Hirst as an anti-artist, which I would agree with, but for reasons that are not economic.