Anselm Kiefer is preoccupied with the Holocaust and the legacy of the Nazis. Engaged on a grand scale, and interesting with symbols of Nazi grandiosity, he grapples with a topic to which a lot of his critics reply by citing Theodor Adorno’s well-known assertion, “To write down a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Whereas not completely unwarranted, that counter to Kiefer’s work is just too simple and a tad glib. The sentence is included within the essay “Cultural Criticism and Society,” in Prisms (MIT Press, 1967), translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber. Within the opening paragraph, Adorno writes:
The cultural critic isn’t pleased with civilization, to which alone he owes his discontent. He speaks as if he represents unadulterated nature or a better historic stage. But he’s essentially of the identical essence as that to which he fancies himself superior.
These are the troubling questions that viewers of Kiefer’s work should take care of. What’s the essence of the artist’s discontent? Does he imagine that he can redeem the topic and produce the Holocaust into the realm of artwork? Does he imagine he represents an “unadulterated nature”?
Most of the 13 work in Anselm Kiefer: Exodus at Gagosian (November 12–December 23, 2022) are gargantuan; they’re composed of assorted processes and supplies, together with emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac, gold leaf, copper leaf, sediment, metallic, material, wooden, hair, rope, terracotta, procuring carts, clothes, and paintbrushes. Seven of the work depict an enormous damage. “Für Paul Celan” (For Paul Celan, 2021), which is greater than 12 by 18 toes, depicts the decaying and unused Zeppelin Discipline Grandstand, designed by Albert Speer, Adolph Hitler’s architect. In 2019, town of Nuremberg needed to resolve what to do with this empire-scaled structure and panorama that glorified Hitler and Nazism. Julia Lehner, town’s chief tradition official, said, “We received’t rebuild, we received’t restore, however we’ll preserve. It is a crucial witness to an period — it permits us to see how dictatorial regimes stage handle themselves.”
Kiefer has made works that discuss with Celan’s early, celebrated poem “Todesfugue” (Loss of life Fugue) since 1981. In that poem (translated by Michael Hamburger), Celan writes:
He calls out extra sweetly play demise demise is a grasp from Germany
he calls out extra darkly now stroke your strings then as smoke you’ll rise within the air
then a grave you’ll have within the clouds there one lies unconfined.
What do the ashes imply in Kiefer’s work? Are they graves within the clouds for the thousands and thousands who have been murdered? Is that this Kiefer’s intention in depicting the constructing towards a blackish floor and dedicating it to Celan? What does it imply to dramatize the squalor of its classical edifice, and its dream of historical Rome and Greece? Sooner or later Germany for which the Zeppelin Discipline Grandstand was constructed, solely Aryans would be capable to come and recognize what it stood for. By dedicating it to Celan, a Romanian-born Jewish poet whose mother and father have been murdered in a focus camp, is Kiefer underscoring Nazi Germany’s failure?
In 1958, when Celan was awarded the Bremen Prize, he stated of poetry after Auschwitz:
Just one factor remained reachable, shut and safe amid all losses: language. Sure, language. In the end, it remained safe towards loss. However it needed to undergo its personal lack of solutions, by way of terrifying silence, by way of the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went by way of. It gave me no phrases for what was taking place, however went by way of it. Went by way of and will resurface, “enriched” by all of it.
In Chosen Poems and Prose of Paul Celan (2000), the translator, John Feltsiner, quotes the poet: “There’s nothing on the planet for which a poet will surrender writing, not even when he’s a Jew and the language of his poems is German.” In his later poems, Celan tore aside the German language. He used neologisms and wrote in a damaged language that gave him no phrases for what had occurred. He needed to invent his personal phrases, whereas Kiefer has appropriated symbols and metaphors from many sources and cultures.
“Für Paul Celan” is scaled for a museum, reminding me of one thing Robert Smithson wrote: “[…] museums and parks are graveyards above the bottom — congealed recollections of the previous that act as a pretext for actuality.” The truth to which Kiefer subscribes has its roots in German Romanticism, notably the idea that the artist can mediate between the inventive and the divine, between earth and heaven. Together with his use of lead and gold, he proposes the artist as an alchemist who can remodel inert matter into spirit. That is the place I discover Kiefer’s work troubling. He chooses the oracular and invokes the Rapture, with the lead procuring cart in “Exodus” (2022) tilted up towards the gold-leafed sky. He appears to imagine the artist possesses a non secular, superhuman energy.
In keeping with the gallery, “Danaë” (2016–21) which is over 12 toes excessive and greater than 40 toes lengthy,
[…] anchors the set up, fusing a illustration of the huge inside of Tempelhof Airport in Berlin with the traditional Greek fantasy of Zeus transfigured right into a bathe of gold, resulting in the distinguished use of gold leaf within the portray. The storied website was inbuilt an space belonging to the Knights Templar within the Center Ages, opened as an airport complicated in 1923, was developed extensively beneath the Third Reich, and performed a vital position within the Berlin Airlift throughout the Chilly Battle. Considerably, the decommissioned facility was not too long ago used to supply short-term shelter for refugees, connecting it to the themes of Exodus.
No point out is product of Kiefer’s use of one-point perspective, an authoritarian choice that tells the viewer the place to face in an effort to recognize the spatiality of the piece. Within the Greek fantasy, Danaë’s father, Acrisius, is informed in a prophecy that he might be killed by his daughter’s son. Though Acrisius locks his daughter in an underground chamber, Zeus enters it disguised as bathe of gold and impregnates her. When her father learns of this, he locations Danaë and the toddler in a chest and units them adrift at sea. Years later, the son, Perseus, will unintentionally kill Acrisius.
What prophecy is Kiefer getting at in “Danaë”? What miracle does he imagine in? Is it the miracle of the artist as creator? What does it imply to cowl the dearth of solutions in gold, and to affiliate that gold with impregnation and the foretold demise of an elder? Anselm Kiefer is the Steven Spielberg of portray. Each are masters of impact and satisfied of their very own genius. One can’t assist however be impressed by what they do of their respective mediums. And but, is being impressed sufficient?
Anselm Kiefer: Exodus continues at Gagosian (555 West twenty fourth Road, Chelsea, Manhattan) by way of December 23. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.