London Trip- Anslem Kiefer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts

I attended this trip as much for my dissertation as my studio practice, the reason for this was that I had plans for Kiefer to be included in my research and I felt the best way to do this was to see the work in person.

Kiefer’s work asks the questions, what does a nation remember? How does it remember? These questions are focused around the aftermath of the Nazi regime and the post-war Germany. “The artist contends that Germany avoided both questions by silencing collective memory as part of its post-war process of normalisation.” A piece of work that directly challenges this is a piece I saw at the start of the exhibition entitled ‘Heroic Symbol V,’ this oil on canvas painting created in 1970 can be seen below.

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As you can imagine these images would shock the then German population however Kiefer claimed that these images were not intended in this way. “Rather, he was making visible the artistic process by which he inhabits or ‘occupies’ his country’s Nazi past to rend the silence and restore it to memory. In his own words, ‘It was a physical reaction to hold the arm up and to salute. Then I made the scholarship to learn about it. But I was not intending to shock someone.'” In this piece “The warrior on the right lifts his sword as if echoing Kiefer’s Nazi salute, seemingly reinforcing the connection between the two. Yet Kiefer also subverts the association through the minuscule size of the man. His figure is not only dwarfed by the statues that are outlined in stark contrast against the sky, but also made inconspicuous against the Rhine and the city beyond it. His saluting hand actually blends into the bank opposite.” When standing in front of this piece this painting and most of Kiefer’s work is quite roughly and thickly painted in quite rhythmic strokes.

Another piece that stood out to me was the Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

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This piece is interesting as Kiefer’s attic and below the forest becomes the place where he contemplates the universal themes of good and evil. Something I am currently looking at within my work is the importance, relevance and power of an  environment. The best example of this is Tuyman’s “Gaskamer.” This piece approaches the idea of evil in an environment in a much more obvious and robust way.

Kiefer is also important to my dissertation research because of his challenging of the famous Adorno quote. Adorno believed that poetry and art lacked the capacity to represent or sublimate suffering, while the questions of whether art was conceivable after the trauma of the Holocaust. In response to this Kiefer created over 30 works inspired by a Paul Celan poem. One of these pieces can be seen below, entitled “Sulamith.

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This piece forms the last of a series of paintings that focused on Nazi buildings. Nazi buildings are of particular interest to me because my interest in environments and their influence on people stem from my work last year and my study of the Stanford Prison Experiment and the idea of the Panopticon. Although perhaps more clearly than Tuymans the horror of this scene is somewhat absent. “The artist powerfully alludes to, but does not depict, the violence of the Holocaust through the blackened roof, which implies both a great fire and the crematoria ovens of the Nazi death camps. The enormous scale of the painting- approximently 3 x4 metres- brings us into the chamber and obliges us to confront what has happened there.” This is something I want to adopt more in my work. In the horrific scenes I have been painting much have included people. I will be looking to incorporate the environment much more.

Overall this is a trip that I am glad to have attended. I feel I am gained a greater insight into the work and motivation of Anselm Kiefer; and I will look to include him in my dissertation and as a influence with my studio practice.

 

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