(North Adams, MA) German artist Anselm Kiefer conjoins matter, history and time in a moving installation of paintings and monumental sculpture opening October 20th at MASS MoCA. MASS MoCA centerpiece Building 4 galleries will feature four vast landscape paintings from a recent series never before seen in the United States, two paintings from the 1980, and an immense concrete sculpture, Etroits sont les Vaisseaux.
"Among our most important poets of war, in this surprising body of works Anselm Kiefer presents us with poignant moments of color flowering across the ruined topographies of his vast canvases," said Joseph Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA. "For reasons I still cannot fully fathom, the Connecticut courts have recently required Andy and Christine Hall to remove Kiefer elegiac Etroits sont les Vaisseaux from their property. I've long admired that particular sculpture its siting was exquisite and I was delighted when the Halls offered it on long-term loan to MASS MoCA. That spirited act of generosity was further amplified as we discussed creating a specific installation of Kiefer works keyed to Etroits sont les Vaisseaux. Admirers of Kiefer will find this exhibition revelatory, the relative profusion of color is unexpected, and somehow especially touching because of that fact and for those who may have missed the wonderful Fort Worth and Bilbao surveys of Kiefer's work, this focused installation presents a powerful environment in which to become familiar with his recent work. Two earlier canvases with overlapping themes will place this timely new body of work in a broader context."
Artforum describes Kiefer's art as "sensuous and mesmerizing images through which we gain entry to his arcane mindscape of ancient and recent history, philosophy, botany, Nordic myth, National Socialism, alchemy, and Wagner." The Independent said in a review of Kiefer's February 2007 exhibition at London's White Cubes Gallery: "Great art is about transformation. And transforming experience and transforming materials are what Anselm Kiefer specializes in. The contrasting themes of destruction and recreation, violent upheaval and spiritual renewal, underpin much of the artist's work."
An illustrated catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition by Derneburg Publications in association with MASS MoCA. In the book, art historian Mark Rosenthal writes, ´┐ŻThe subject of war is either implicit or explicit in each of the works on view at MASS MoCA and in the group as a whole War--a tragedy for innocent victims and their families, for those sent to fight, and for the subsequent fate of the populations and nations left to rebuild physical and psychological damage--is pervasive in Kiefer's art.
The paintings included in the exhibition are: A.E.I.O.U (Elizabeth von Oesterreich) (1987), Air-Battle England (1988), Aperiatur Terra et Germinet Salvatorem (2005-2006), Nachricht vom Fall Trojas (2005-2006), Olympe-Fur Victor Hugo (2005-2006), and Rorate caeli et nubes pluant iustum (2005-2006). For some of these works Kiefer refers to the Biblical incantation from Isaiah 45:8: Let the earth open, expressing the phrase with a series of fractured landscapes which convey the life force of germinating plants and the immense rejuvenating energies of the sun.
Rosenthal describes Kiefer´'s paintings: "A landscape by Kiefer always fills the field of the canvas, with the horizon line and suggestion of sky minimal. Adding to this sense of claustrophobia, Kiefer's typical large-scale format imparts a sense of portentous enormity to the experience. Before one of these mighty paintings, the viewer might feel his face pushed against the painted field, or else envision flying over it, though at a very low altitude. The depicted breadth even conveys a sense of the curvature of the earth. Dark in tonality and sometimes shown with fires burning, these often blackened places seem to have only recently been abandoned by human inhabitants. The depictions are at night or at dusk, thereby adding a melancholic sense of foreboding that horrific events have only just subsided."
The paintings will surround Etroits sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow Are the Vessels) (2002), an 82-foot-long work of cast concrete, exposed rebar, and lead, rolling in ribbons through the gallery like waves along the shore. The concrete evokes rubble, the aftermath of war, natural disaster, and structural failure of immense proportions. The title comes from the late French Nobel laureate pseudonymously known as Saint-John Perse who once wrote, "One wave throughout the world, one wave since Troy rolls its haunch towards us."
Born and raised in southern Germany in 1945 during the final days of the collapse of the Third Reich, Anselm Kiefer experienced divided postwar Germany firsthand. A law student, he switched to art in 1965 and held his first solo exhibit in 1970. His works often incorporate materials like straw, ash, clay, lead, dirt and shellac. The poems of Paul Celan have played a role in shaping Kiefer's themes of German history and the horror of the Holocaust, as have the theological concepts of Kabbalah.
Kiefer ranks among the best-known and most successful, but also most controversial, of post World War II German artists. In his entire body of work, Kiefer argues with the past and addresses taboo and controversial issues from recent history. Themes from Nazi rule are often reflected in his work; for instance, the painting Margarethe (1981, oil and straw on canvas) was inspired by Paul Celan's well-known poem Todesfuge (Death Fugue). His works are often realized in extremely large formats (some of the paintings in the current exhibition span 25 feet in length, by 10 feet high). He often builds his imagery on top of photographs, layering the massive canvases with dirt, lead, straw and other materials that generate a literal ground that reads of the earth itself. Within these thick, impastoed surfaces (and often by careful titling,) Kiefer embeds textual or symbolic references to historic figures or places: these become encoded signals through which Kiefer invokes and processes history a practice which has linked with a style called "New Symbolism."
During the early 1970's Kiefer studied with conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, whose interest in using an array of cultural myths, metaphors and personal symbolic vocabulary as a means by which to engage and understand history inspired Kiefer. (At MASS MoCA, one of his paintings will be shown in an adjacent gallery which houses Beuys' masterpiece Lightning with Stag in Its Glare, on long-term loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.)
Kiefer's early work did not conform to either the Minimalist or Conceptualist movements that were developing at the time he was a student. Instead he created massive, dark paintings and quasi-figurative works that explored German folklore and were inspired by Caspar David Friedrich, among others. In addition to paintings, Kiefer also produced drawings, watercolors, prints, sculptural books and engravings.
Kiefer describes his own artistic process as stimulated by Beuys' philosophies: Painting, for me, is not just about creating an illusion. I don't paint to present an image of something. I paint only when I have received an apparition, a shock, when I want to transform something. Something that possesses me,and from which I have to deliver myself. Something I need to transform, to metabolize, and which gives me a reason to paint.
All works in the exhibition are on extended loan from the collection of Andy and Christine Hall.