16 October 2009 – 14 November 2009
White Cube Hoxton Square, White Cube Mason's Yard
White Cube presented two new series of works by the internationally acclaimed artist Anselm Kiefer. The exhibitions held at White Cube Mason’s Yard and White Cube Hoxton Square constituted the largest gallery showing of Kiefer’s art ever staged in London.
Kiefer's work continues to confront the violence and paradoxes of human history, its endless cycle of creation and destruction. The paintings are allusive, not illustrative, with an emphatic material and spiritual presence. They seem almost sensuously painted but are the result of a long process during which both the artist and the elements have attacked the canvas.
At Mason’s Yard, Kiefer showed a series of forest diptychs and triptychs enclosed in glass vitrines, many filled with dense Moroccan thorns. The title ‘Karfunkelfee’, which has its antecedents in German Romanticism, stems from a poem by the post-war Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann:
On the golden bridge, only he who might know
the fairy’s secret word can win.
I’m sorry to say, along with our last snow,
it melted in the garden.
The associations, for Kiefer, are mythical, geological, alchemical and profoundly ambiguous. ‘The interesting thing about the Karfunkelfee or “Karfunkelfaerie”’, says Kiefer, ‘is her ambiguous appearance. She can be a fairy godmother as well as the evil one. The description of the karfunkel stone itself is paradoxical. It glows bright red at night but cannot be seen by day. It is associated too with the ergot which renders grain black and often causes severe famine’.
In ‘The Fertile Crescent’ in Hoxton Square, Kiefer presented a group of epic paintings inspired initially by a trip to India fifteen years ago where he first encountered rural brick factories. Sun-dried mud bricks are piled up to create monumental structures akin to ancient pyramids or temples. A vast fire is built inside these factories to bake the bricks that are subsequently dismantled and dispersed in an ongoing cycle of construction and deconstruction. Over the past decade the photographs Kiefer took in India have, as the artist describes it, ‘reverberated’ in his mind to suggest a vast array of cultural and historical references, spanning from the first great human civilisation of Mesopotamia to the ruins of Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War, where he played as a small boy. The resulting paintings are rich, multi-layered and open to numerous readings but their impact is universal: ‘Anyone in search of a resonant meditation on the instability of built grandeur’, wrote the historian Simon Schama in his catalogue essay, ‘would do well to look hard at Kiefer’s The Fertile Crescent’.
A fully illustrated catalogue, with an essay by Simon Schama and an interview with the artist by Tim Marlow, accompanied the exhibition.