If you haven’t seen it, hurry. The Anselm Kiefer exhibition “Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot” closes on Saturday 26th January.
Despite the astronomical and mythological suggestions of his title there is plenty of earthly nature and more than a hint of recent inhuman nature in Kiefer’s imagery. The paintings are huge, based frequently on tall plants but always suffused with a threat of destruction. The Norns of course held the fate of human lives on a thread: one stretched it, one measured it and the third cut it. These are landscapes that extend the imagery of Frank Auerbach and have the grimovertones of Auerbach’s friend Lucien Freud.
It is no surprise, since Kiefer was born in 1945 during an air raid on Germany, that his life’s work has been pursued in the shadow of what the Nazis had done. He warns that we are not far from repeating something ofthe kind. The Gordian Knot element of his work has razor wire entangled throughout on a small scale and in larger paintings there is an axe symbolic of Alexander the Great’s “solution” to the problem – a prehistoric prophecy of the “Final Solution” from someone famed for his destructive all-conquering ambitions that ended in his own early death.
A circular building, either parliament or panopticon prison features in a “Life and Death” image set in a wasteland. However, there are uplifting alternatives – literally so as Kiefer employs evolutionary and cosmological ideas to challenge perspective: at first sight the works in question seem to have huge webs extended above their surfaces. A closer view confirms they are two-dimensional, in contrast to the branches and other objects projecting from his landscapes.
If people can’t reach The White Cube in time I’m sure the Royal Academy will have him return to its galleries before long: his last exhibition there was outstanding. At The White admission is free.