Anselm Kiefer at Gagosian

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21

 

Upon arriving in New York, I visited the Gagosian Gallery to see Anselm Kiefer’s show,  titled “Next Year in Jerusalem.” The work engendered both raves and negativity from reviewers. Chief among the negative press was the review by Roberta Smith of the New York Times, although she begins by admitting that Kiefer “knows how to put on a show.”

The exhibition was arranged around a large steel shed called “Occupations” that contained 76 large-scale photographs [see below] from 1969 of Kiefer making the “Hitlergrusse” (raised arm Nazi salute) in front of European sites of historic significance. The photographs were mounted on lead backed with burlap and hung from the ceiling of the shed like clothes hanging in a closet. Viewers could look into the shed from several partly opened doors but could not enter. The shed was reminiscent of a boxcar, a barracks, a prison or a meatlocker.
shed - salute
The rest of the exhibition was contained in a “labyrinth” of 25 glass and steel vitrines, some more than 20 feet high. On the walls of the gallery were large landscape paintings and shallow glass vitrines holding thornbushes, ferns and painted backdrops. The large paintings contained layers of “ash, lead, snakeskin and other distressed materials” according to the gallery website.

Typewriter boats in vitrine

The critic, Roberta Smith described the show as …”the dustbin of history expanded into giant prop storage in a theater where death and destruction prevail, but various ancient faiths offer the possibility of redemption. And yet really giving in to the work requires suspending the suspicion that religion and faith are not part of the solution. They are most of the problem.”

 

 

Given the prevalent Murakami, Koons and other widely ballyhooed “art” extravaganzas, I think Smith is too harsh on Kiefer. At least his work provides more of a meaningful message than glitz and conspicuous consumption. Her description of the show as “a museum of devastation” was exactly the way I felt walking through the placement of the tall glass vitrines that were filled with ashy and grey or rusted relics evocative of a hideous past. This was a museum of the Holocaust and among the upturned soles of shoes, child- and doll-sized clothing, bent and twisted ladders, clay-covered sunflowers and other terrible mementos of an evil force, I sensed the obsessive drive of the artist to recover or reproduce these objects. Of course he was trying for effect, and he was getting it from me. I found it very moving as evidence of that terrible occurrence and other devastatingly destructive events. Of course viewing the show with a friend, who is Jewish, made the Holocaust connection even stronger for me. He told me about his father taking him to see a Kiefer show many years ago and what an impression the work made on him.

 

white dress

 

vitrines

 

There is a special border, the border between art and life that often shifts deceptively. Yet, without this border, there is no art. In the process of being produced, art borrows material from life, and the traces of life still shine through the completed work of art. But, at the same time, the distance from life is the essence, the substance of art. And, yet, life has still left its traces. The more scrarred the work of art is by the battles waged on the borders between art and life, the more interesting it becomes.

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