Anselm Kiefer, Unfruchtbare Landschaften, 1969, 60 x 45 x 7 cm, 12 pages, black and white photographs, surgical instrument, ink and paper on bound cardboard. All images courtesy the artist and Yvon Lambert Gallery.
Currently on view at Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris, through June 26 2010, is “Unfruchtbaren Landschaften” by Anselm Kiefer. The phrase, which translates to “Barren Landscape,” encapsulates the heavy and frangible works on view. Among the works, which take the form of cardboard books filled with photographs, watercolor, text, and ephemera, are many that were conceived in the late 1960s and early 70s. Enigmatic clues are scattered among cliches, both provocative and disturbing. The works serve as visions, heavily freighted with memories and symbols, inserted into and born of the sociopolitical context of World War II Germany. The exhibition’s eponymous phrase is scribbled in shaky script, conveying a feeling of school-boy-like nostalgia.
Installation view, Anselm Kiefer, Unfruchtbare Landschaften at Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris.
More text and images after the jump…
The exhibition is organized into two rooms, each filled with glass display cases in which Kiefer’s hand-bound books are laid out. Arranged in an archival-like manner, the books all bear an inscription to controversial French writer Jean Genet (1910-1986), exploring his combination of provocation and effusive, flowery images. “His father had been active in the war and had talked to him about it; there was a real weight for the new German generation,” said gallerist Yvon Lambert.
Themes from Nazi rule are reflected in his work, and the artist consistently argues with the past, addressing taboo and controversial issues from recent history. When these works were originally exhibited they were met with shock and incomprehension from critics, who could not accept Kiefer’s pathetic and provocative questioning.
Better known for his large scale canvas works loaded with paint and lead, depicting chaotic war scenes, words plucked from Paul Celan, Kabbalah and the Bible, this work is somewhat of a departure. The paper works do retain a certain continuity in subject, treatment of materials, and imagery. It is also a return to the beginning of his career, when books were a central theme of his work.
Anselm Kiefer, Unfruchtbare Landschafte, 1969, 36 x 25 x 4.5 cm, 14 pages, black and white photographs, surgical instrument, ink and paper on bound cardboard.
French writer Pierre Peju, who has an essay in the exhibition catalog writes that, to all those who identify Keifer with, “imperial buildings self-destructing and collapsing into a pile of bricks, shards of glass and rubble that spread to meet the viewer, all those who see the fires on the snow, all those who are still haunted by the dream or the nightmare of plaster queens or brides with barbed-wire faces, and all those who remember the landscapes covered with books, whether those books are painted, sculpted or made of folded lead, raised in Babel-like libraries or burned, charred as if by the breath of a dragon from the song of the Nibelungen – all those who know Kiefer’s art will have to admit that, from the very start, the unnameable and subtle substance that, like grey blood, irrigates all his works, from his earliest interventions or installations to the most recent, internationally acclaimed works.”
Anselm Kiefer, Brünhilde and her fate, 1977, 30.5 x 23.5 x 2 cm, 126 pages, gouache on an edition of the “Mirror of Venus” by Wingate Paine.
– J. Lindblad