A major exhibition (IMO anyway) of Anselm Kiefer’s new work is closing next week, so I thought I’d actually write this in time. I have had this on my to-do list for quite a few weeks, but when you haven’t exercised that part of your brain that is required to accomplish particular tasks, these things appear to be more daunting than they were and/or really are.
The first work I ever encountered of Anselm Kiefer’s was Bohemia Lies by the Sea which is on display at the Met. I didn’t really know anything about him (or any other artist at that time, really), but my dad was so obviously moved by this image that both the image of my father (an unexpressive man when it comes to tender or overly serious emotions) and the image of the work itself remained with me for years and years.
I went to see Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot at White Cube Bermondsey with my flatmate, Laura, who is also a massive Kiefer fan. This was particularly exciting for me because the space is massive and all the work on view would be new.
As far as my observations go, Kiefer’s work has always been loaded with meaning and history, and this continues on with Superstrings… with an emphasis on a variety of iterations and thoughts around the notion of, essentially, the string. Right from the entrance, in a large-scale installation that responds to the idea of string theory — a piece comprised of 30 vitrines after which the entire show is named — and the inherent connectedness of everything with everything else. The point is driven very, very obviously, and although on the whole it was compelling with a scale that’s astounding, I can’t really help but feel like this was a bit too on the nose an execution for an idea that could have been handled with a bit more subtlety. It almost feels like handing someone some Cliff Notes that begins with: “This is what this means.”
Towards the end, I spent a lot of time with this work, Die Sieben Siegel, die geheime Offenbarung des Johannes, which was completed between 2016 and 2018. The title translates to something that is, at the same time, innocuous and terrifying: The seven seals, the secret revelation of John. The red splotches in the distance looks like a row of burning fires.
This series of paintings reminded me of something W.G. Sebald wrote about in a very early chapter of The Rings of Saturn, which I am only mentioning in passing because I haven’t finished it and don’t want to pretend that I have. But, you know, a bookmark for later expansion, if you will.
My favourite out of all of the pieces, of which there are many, is Ramanujan Summation — 1/12 which occupies the smallest room by itself. It is titled after a “mathematical technique used to assign value to infinite series,” an attempt at connecting the spiritual and the scientific, enjoining the sky with a field, the past and the present, “the celestial and the terrestrial.”
I’m not sure if I buy that explanation, but I spent a good 20 minutes, I think, looking at this massive piece. There is a lot of other work on display, but I remember being enraptured by this one the most. Even though it wasn’t the first one we saw, nor was it the last. I remember the way my dad felt about Bohemia Lies By the Sea, and although I absolutely did feel enthralled by the work itself — whether it be because he’s a genius or still going at 74 years old, I very much believe that a part of me felt a little bit closer to my dad, even though right now, we live a thousand miles away from each other.