Anselm Kiefer In Paris
Anselm Kiefer: Die Ungeborenen
14 October 2012 – 27 January 2013
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Pantin
69 Avenue du Général Le Clerc 93500 Pantin
Anselm Kiefer: Morgenthau Plan
18th October 2012 – 26th January 2013
800 Avenue de L’Europe, 93350 Le Bourget Paris
For the last two years Parisians have been anticipating the opening of the Pantin branch of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac designed by Buttazzoni & Associes with new works by Anselm Kiefer. Imagine our delight, and perhaps Thaddaeus Ropac’s horror, when in June of this year Larry Gagosian announced that he too was going to vastly expand his exhibition space just outside Paris with a new expansive gallery, exhibiting the same artist. An unlikely coincidence, this marking of territory at the top of the Paris art market, has provided an unprecedented opportunity to compare two exhibitions of Kiefer’s latest works in fabulous new exhibition spaces. Gagosian’s Le Bourget location, in particular, designed by Jean Nouvel in an old aircraft hangar, is a stunning but authentic conversion of the 1950’s structure into a modern and flexible gallery.
Of the two exhibitions, it is at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac where we find Kiefer at his most intense. Fusing art and literature, painting and sculpture, the artist engages the complex events of history and the epic themes of life, death, and the cosmos. He layers ideas plucked from ancient knowledge, folk law, religion, alchemy, the bible and philosophy with paint, earth, human fluids, metal and other elements to create his work and bring his ideas to life. Masterfully working his canvases, Kiefer’s paintings often become three dimensional through the addition of branches, books, on this occasion chairs and even the small wing of an aeroplane. Kiefer adds a fourth dimension when he finishes his picture with words, invoking powerful thoughts with dedications to his mother, Rabbi Loew and British philosopher Robert Fludd in his own distinctive spidery hand; a final intensification of powerful themes.
The title of the exhibition, Die Ungeborenen, translates to The Unborn, the deeply uncomfortable concept Kiefer examines – he considers the philosophical question of all the forgotten ones, those who lost their presence before even being born. Described as a retrograde move of creation – a place of limbo – the exhibition is devoted to exposing and exploring this otherworldly parallel place of the unborn and its potential but unfulfilled energy. The artist creates massive canvases painting over photographs and sculpture using objects collected from the 1980’s onwards, including resin models of embryos. His giant canvases are humbling, with intense elemental swathes of paint. In them, we meet the unnerving universal symbols of the unborn or otherwise created. The monumental unintelligible melancholy of Germany’s Nazi past is ever present and howls out of the pictures, a consistent subtext in all of Kiefer’s work. His sculpture makes an exceptional, bone-chilling use of the void in Himmelsschluch with a pile of empty, rusting children’s beds. It is as though the works are hewn from the very elements of life itself and we are never more aware of our own mortality. The close proximity of a huge graveyard and the grim industrial surrounds to the gallery space coupled with the wet autumnal dusk only intensified this feeling as I left.
At the Gagosian, Kiefer explores a different concept, the Morgenthau Plan, a suggested outcome of the Second World War proposed by General Morgenthau to create a demilitarised, unthreatening and entirely agricultural Germany. When the artist first saw the space he thought of the ancient German poem Unter den Linden (Under the Linden Trees) by Walther von der Vogelweid which in turn alludes to the SS marching song of the same name. In Morgenthau Plan Kiefer again explores another parallel outcome, another possibility, an unborn idea.
The gallery is filled with a sculpture of a golden wheat field, enclosed within a five-meter high steel cage, created especially for the gallery and glorious in the sunlight, accompanied by five canvases, depicting wheat fields with flowers, instantly recalling van Gogh’s Wheatfields with Crows and Irises. The impasto is very thick and while the works are instantly recognisable as Kiefer’s, with pastel shades, a conspicuous absence of any death imagery and at a more domestic scale, they are certainly works without the intensity for which Kiefer is known. If the works are less powerful than Kiefer’s typical oeuvre, the exhibition space alone warrants a visit.
Sarah Hyde works for Christies in London and lives in Paris.