Monday, 29 September 2014

Greatest living artist

kiefer

It's a bold claim but I'll fight* anyone who thinks otherwise.

Anselm Kiefer is something of a perfect storm. It's difficult to imagine how anyone would or should react to being born into the ruins of the Third Reich, surrounded by the detritus of war and a recent history that no-one would talk about. For Kiefer, a man driven to make art, the natural response was to try and shatter the collective silence, asking questions of memory and experience.

Much of Kiefer's work is simply astonishing; massive canvasses plastered with paint, ash, straw, clay, and even diamonds, that you don't so much look at as get absorbed by. Other work is more conventionally sized but equally challenging examining relationships between heroic, Teutonic and catholic mythology and Nazi iconography, forcing remembrance. And then there's the books. Kiefer is a great believer in and proponent of the artist's book, from the apparently regular, watercolour filled books, to massive tomes of lead, packed with paint, minerals and dried plant matter, often left to corrode.

Many years ago now I stood transfixed as I encountered "Lilith" for the first time, this Saturday I was again stupefied by the sheer brilliance of the Royal Academy's exhibition. It is a particularly well curated show that manages to distil Kiefer's vast oeuvre into a compelling narrative that takes you from his early and challenging Heroic Symbol works, watercolours and books through monumental reactions to Speer's architecture and explorations of the cycle of life and the artist's place in it, and climaxes with a frankly stunning finale of new work that leaves you breathless as you funnel out through The Rhine into the gift shop.

(*meaning 'disagree with' and maybe even 'think less of')


photo © Der Speigel