Anselm Kiefer, Black Flakes (Schwarze Flocken), 2006, oil, emulsion, acrylic, charcoal, lead books, branches and plaster on canvas, 330 x 570 cm, Private Collection.
Anselm Kiefer, Heroic Symbol V (Heroisches Sinnbild V), 1970, oil on canvas, 150 x 260.5 cm, Collection Wuerth.
Before heading to the Royal Academy to see its latest single artist show, I’d thought that my knowledge of Anselm Kiefer’s life, character and oeuvre was pretty decent. I’ve always been a big fan of modern German artists, such as Richter and Kippenberger, but Kiefer has remained a firm favourite. That being said, the Academy’s phenomenal new retrospective revealed several sides to the artist that I was shamefully unfamiliar with. It’s rare for me to come away from an exhibition feeling completely enlightened in this way!
Unusually, the show begins with what can only be described as an onslaught of visual material: sketchbooks, diaries, watercolours and oils from the late 1960s and 1970s fill the space, and could probably make up an entire exhibition themselves. But it’s a great way to introduce the artist to those who might be less familiar with him, and paves the way for the incredible material to follow. From here, the galleries are generally divided by a certain theme or period of Kiefer’s life, though some are dedicated to just a couple of pieces that might be linked by material or colour. Lead panels studded with sparkling diamonds, designed to emulate constellations, were absolute show-stealers for me. As was Ages of the World, a colossal mixed-media installation created by the artist exclusively for the show. It’s tucked away in a side room, but the impact of its size and subject is certainly felt when you catch a glimpse of it through the archway. By the time you reach the very last room - a labyrinth of monochrome woodcut collages depicting the River Rhine - Kiefer’s unique vision is complete. The nature of the his work, combined with the exhibition’s clever curation, creates an overall feeling of stepping into the artist’s mind and experiencing his obsessions, his knowledge, and the stories he’s longed to tell.
I don’t want to spoil it and give too much more away, because this is the absolute must-see show of the autumn. Just trust me: if you’re fixated by the magical, the mystical, the weird and the wonderful, then Kiefer’s spectacle is one that will inspire, astound and mesmerise.
Anselm Kiefer, Winter Landscape (Winterlandschaft), 1970, watercolour, gouache, and graphite pencil on paper, 42.9 x 35.6 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Anselm Kiefer, Interior (Innenraum), 1981, oil, acrylic, and paper on canvas, 287.5 x 311 cm, Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Anselm Kiefer, The Orders of the Night (Die Orden der Nacht), 1996, emulsion, acrylic and shellac on canvas, 356 x 463 cm, Seattle Art Museum.
'Anselm Kiefer' is on at the Royal Academy until 14th December 2014. All images © Anselm Kiefer. For further information on image copyrights, see below: