Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sol Invictus

In the previous entry, I described the wonderful work of Sophie Calle I saw at Louisiana. I also saw another exhibit, one much darker but no less impressive, by German artist Anselm Kiefer.

I was unfamiliar with Kiefer's work prior to Sunday. His work was mentally exhausting; the Louisiana exhibit spanned five rooms containing art inspired by controversial topics in modern history--in particular, his art took on themes from Nazi rule. The art was fascinating for me. It was sort of the same feeling I get when I watch a particularly depressing, but well-made, movie. I cannot honestly say I "enjoyed" Anselm Kiefer's art. But I can say that to my relatively inexperienced artistic eyes, the work was masterful. Like the Sophie Calle display, Kiefer's exhibition made me feel something; his work was not happy or remotely hopeful, but it brought my mind to a darker place and time in history that I will never be able to truly comprehend. And interestingly enough, I found that his massive, mural-scale pieces were the most effective. His smaller works are excellent, but Kiefer's use of paint coupled with other raw materials on a bigger scale work to his advantage. There was one piece in particular that stuck with me. It spanned an entire wall, and depicted a bleak field scattered with musty pink dots, roses. Clusters of material resembling barbed wire were attached to the canvas, in some places jutting out away from it. And scattered among this beautiful chaos were small, rectangular strips of fabric, onto which Kiefer had written sets of numbers, the meaning of which remains unclear to me, though I have my guesses. Perhaps most stunning of all was its title: Wohin wir uns wenden im Gewitter der Rosen, ist die Nacht mit Dornen erhellt...Wherever we turn in the storm of roses, the night is lit up by thorns. There were other murals, too; and in another room, painting after painting of a man in Nazi uniform, saluting Hitler, in various settings. There was a gigantic book, the pages of which were covered in a metallic sort of material and painted with abstract landscapes, again dotted with sets of numbers. There were smaller books, too, containing pictures of "barren landscapes" onto which Kiefer had glued syringes or surgical scissors. The entire exhibition did not leave me with a good feeling, as Ms. Calle's had, but it did leave me with a strong emotion. And for that, I highly recommend this wonderful German artist.

My favorite Kiefer piece of the day, an enormous painting entitled Sol Invictus [The Unconquered Sun], made using paint and what appeared to be sunflower seeds...

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