Thursday, January 25, 2007

Anselm Kiefer - Aperiatur Terra

A rip roaring review in the Guardian by Simon Schama of a London exhibition of Anslem Kiefer's most recent work

Kiefer is a contemporary artist I come back to again and again. Here are few gems (even if Schama is perhaps taking the "Lad" thing a bit too far these days...)

Trouble in paradise

"How do you like your contemporary art? A quick hit of juicy mischief, a larky take on mortality, binful of bluebottles, pocketful of glitter, everything you never wanted to know and more about the artist's entrails? Right then, give Anselm Kiefer a very wide berth - because, as the show about to open at White Cube, London, will confirm, he doesn't do droll, he does the big embarrassing stuff, the stuff that matters: the epic slaughters of the world, the incineration of the planet, apocalypse then, apocalypse often; the fragile endurance of the sacred amid the cauterised ruins of the earth...

...Much of Kiefer's art represents a resistance to this inhuman virtualisation of memory; its lazy democracy of significance, its translation into weightless impressions. The opposing pole from that alt/delete disposability is to make history obstinately material, laid down in dense, sedimentary deposits that demand patient, rugged excavation. Kiefer's work burrows away at time, and what it exposes also makes visible the painful toil of the dig, skinned knuckles, barked shins and all....

For visual drama that (I guarantee) will haunt your dreams, there's no one alive to beat Anselm Kiefer. This is because, along with being a philosopher-poet, he also happens to be a craftsman of phenomenal power and versatility.

Dazzling, nostalgically psychedelic shots of colour. Beneath the verse from Isaiah that speaks of heavenly mercy, "Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant" (Drop down ye dew and let the clouds rain upon the just), Kiefer has planted a field of blazing, flamingo-tinted poppies. But the mercy is not unqualified; the flowers are marshalled along perspectival lines all the way to a horizon that is built from raised skeins of greenish-black paint, the corrupted hues of chemical pollution. (Evidently we're not in Monet's picnic country of Les Coquelicots.) Kiefer's poppies with their black faces can be read interchangeably as columns of warriors or the floral memorials of their fiery entombment. And the petals of the middle distance suggest the flares of combat as much as a field of flowers....

This is as good, I think, as art ever gets: mystery and matter delivered in a rush of poetic illumination. That Kiefer's work happens to engage with almost everything that weighs upon us in our tortured age - the fate of the earth, the closeness of calamity, the desperate possibility of regeneration amid the charred and blasted ruins - and that it does so without the hobnailed tread of pedestrian polemics, is just one of the many marvels for which we have to thank, yet again, this most indefatigable of modern magi."

And I'd have to agree with Schama that this is what modern art should be about (btw, I think that last paragraph also actually delineates quite clearly for me the shortcomings of the Burtynsky work).

The Guardian also has a small slideshow up (hard to do justice to the work though)

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