Sunday, November 02, 2014

Monumentally visceral

We first encountered the work of Anselm Kiefer in the Venice Biennale of 1997 - room after room dwarfed by the one or two paintings hung.  We were unprepared for the effect: straw, mud, submarines, trees, words ... wow!  The limited subdued palette of earth, ash, rust, crumble was more powerful than any dazzle of colour and shine.  He delivered a knock-out blow.
More recently, as an Honorary Royal Academician, he has contributed one stunner of a punch to each Summer Exhibition.  That show comes without explicatory labels, and so the mind has to rely on the evidence of the eyes fed through the emotions and memory to make something of these exquisitely powerful works.
I was anticipating the current Royal Academy exhibition with much excitement from the moment that I learned it was planned.  Today I determined that I would approach my visit in the way that I have enjoyed the previous encounters: mostly without information.  With the help of the catalogue I shall fill that in later.  
For this post I am providing only one image: Hortus Conclusus, a collage of woodcuts.  Kiefer's work really needs to be experienced.  A small reproduction does neither the work nor the viewer any favours.  One needs to be overwhelmed by both the size and three dimensionality of it.  (Eirene has provided images from the exhibition in her blogged review here and some specific information here.  And there are further reviews of the exhibition here, here, here, here, and here.)
I scribbled down a lot of seemingly incoherent notes while I viewed and marvelled.  Here are some of them:

mythic/religious, construction/destruction, order/chaos, birth/death/birth, the marvels and messes of mankind

a beautiful ruin - why do we find ruins beautiful?  can we cope only with historic destruction while avoiding any thoughts about current or recent destruction in which we may have been complicit?  do we believe that we can always build better on what others have destroyed, or caused us to destroy?

monumental work showing the destruction of monuments.

hubris and its desserts/deserts

look and ye shall see, seek and ye shall find

I am jangling like a shop door propelled open in such a rush.  In a few days I shall read the reviews linked above, and soon I shall read the catalogue, but for now I shall savour my still vivid emotional memories.


  1. Like you, I like to see an exhibition without having read anything about it, or as little as possible - I need the 'hit' of the emotional response before starting to think about it. Reading comes later.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it - it's such a complete experience!

  2. ruin is such a point of view isn't it? it is more about time. and that grabs us

  3. Eirene, it was so good to be left breathless and emotionally charged as well as thinking.

    Jude, you are right, it is time made visible.

  4. I am so pleased that you were able to visit the exhibition. How well I understand your reactions, and yes, 'time made visible' indeed.

  5. Marja-Leena we are spoiled for choice in London at present, but of all the exhibitions this was the one I did not want to miss.

  6. Olga, I too have just posted a 'review' (very subjective) of this exhibition. Like you, I prefer to confront the work directly and to leave the words, analyses, background information for later. His work in particular demands one's physical presence and no reproductions, however excellent, can equal being there.

    I'm always amazed and annoyed when I see people in museums and galleries with their eyes glued to information leaflets, barely glancing at the work itself. Why can't they trust their own responses?

  7. More to explore! I am going to Scotland again at the end of the week - armed with my ipad - and hopefully to find lots of time to follow up on all those fantastic links you provide.
    This looks like an exhibition not to be missed.

  8. Hello Natalie - I must visit your blog again. It has been a long time.

    Margaret - I hope that you enjoy Scotland, and that you manage to get to the RA.