Anselm Kiefer can be seen to resemble David Bowie, in the way that he in some way uses the deeds of the hard Right (in Kiefer’s case Nazism) to create shimmering, juddering images of great depth and vision. His greatest beauties are the tender pinks and dawn colours that he dabs his industrial white-grey pictures of forests and valleys with.
He has a new show on, opening on November 23 at White Cube’s huge, cold space in Bermondsey, London. It will lick the clinical walls with a flame: it is entitled Walhalla, after the great, gold hall that Norse mythology consigned its warriors to. The show wouldn’t be complete without an industrial spiral staircase with which the Valkyries enter the afterlife. Valkyries, legend had it, would decide which warriors would live and which would die.
The paintings at White Cube are said to resemble Van Gogh’s landscapes, and depict stacked towers exploding and dissolving into clouds of deep black and blue smoke. In other works we are left to wander deep within an ancient city, while in yet further paintings we see more staircases, and the neoclassical architecture of Walhalla. This again brings us back to Nazism. Kiefer has a great talent for giving his complex paintings a simmering instability, as if they were liable to break apart – for example, his Interior (1981), representing Hitler’s Mosaic Room, ostensibly a gilded, formal cube.
In 2007, Jorge Semprún, the Spanish Holocaust survivor and writer, said at the anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp: “The cycle of active memory [of the Holocaust] is closing.” The best way to look at Kiefer’s use of themes like the Holocaust are as an open-ended puzzle.
The art critic Marina Warner has asked: “Can [Kiefer’s work] be likened to the utterance of a curse – or does it fulfil the requirements of a blessing?” Certainly, in moments such as these, it seems important to keep the cycle of memory as open as possible.
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