Anslem Kiefer at Gagosian
On Saturday I met my dear friend, Cait, for a couple of hours, to catch up and share an art experience on my short trek to New York. Fortunately, I asked her to choose the venue, so in the cold wind I walked unknowingly toward amazement. Chilled by our early morning walk, we found a cozy Cuban restaurant to stop in for cocoa and coffee. Tucked in among the several murals of tropical Cuba, and with a view from the bar of the yucca, plantains and yellow rice being prepared, the conversation flowed. Once in a while, when hanging out with someone, I will realize how happy I am, and how much fun I’m having. Hanging out with Cait is like that. I could have sat in that steamy place enjoying her for hours. But we pressed on to Gagosian.
I had just seen a large Kiefer canvas the day before at the Met, and many times before in various art publications, but until I saw the Gagosian exhibition I didn’t understand the full range of his work. The scale was overwhelming. The canvases were about 12 feet tall, and 20 feet, or so, wide. They were stark landscapes, but served , also, as environments. They were colder than the November wind outside, covered as they were in snow . The work evoked the Halocaust in a hundred compelling ways, not the least of which was its sensitive command of mood.
The palette of the entire room was restrained– white, dulled metals, browns. One painting was so fiercely textured that it represented the Alps with uncanny accuracy. It was, in fact, more a sculpture made of paint and canvas than a painting. Huge vitrines filled the gallery center, made of patinated steel and glass, as tall as the paintings. They enclosed assemblages and constructions on several threads of the theme. In a few, clothing functioned as metaphor for humankind. One held a stiffened evening gown, white, with a hundred large shards of glass piercing the skirt. We laughed ruefully to think that most women wear that ballgown at least once in their lives.
Some of the vitrines evoked warfare, like one with forms reminiscent of submarines, suspended by long wires at various depths. Many referenced nature in a charred, dried or deadened state. The installation cast a spell by virtue of its arrangement and the density and variety of the images. I was in a space, far back in time, when it was cold and devastation was all around me. Only the vestiges of humanity remained. It was silent, frozen, brittle, and echoing. It was attenuated and delicate, towering and haunted, like a dreamscape that had been once long ago been reality.