Anselm Kiefer en Paris
Art & Design
|An Artist Sets Up House(s) at the Grand Palais|
By ALAN RIDING
Published: May 31, 2007
"Sonnenschiff," foreground, and behind it a "house" in "Falling Stars," Anselm Kiefer's show at the Grand Palais.
PARIS, May 30 — Anselm Kiefer thinks big.
Looking at Anselm Kiefer Since moving to France in 1993, this German-born artist has turned his 50-acre property in Provence into a sprawling installation, with a former silk factory serving as his studio, and warehouses, greenhouses, towers and tunnels displaying his huge paintings and sculpturing the landscape.
AP Photo/Michel Euler
Visitors walk around "Sun Ship," by the German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, during the inauguration of his exhibition Monumenta 2007 "Falling Stars," at the Grand Palais in Paris.
Now this same penchant for working on a monumental scale has made Mr. Kiefer the ideal artist to inaugurate an annual solo show — called, appropriately, Monumenta — that opened on Wednesday in the cavernous space of the Grand Palais in Paris. It continues through July 8.
Mr. Kiefer, 62, whose specific exhibition is titled "Falling Stars," will be followed next year by Richard Serra, the American sculptor of weighty shapes in sheet metal. Christian Boltanski, the French installation artist who often fills entire rooms with one work of art, has been chosen for 2009.
Michel Euler/Associated Press
A dead palm tree, part of Mr. Kiefer's "Palm Sunday." Each year Monumenta will present new work by a leading living artist in the historic setting of the Grand Palais.
Though the artists have the privilege — and challenge — of presenting their art in a unique setting, the show's organizer, the French government, hopes to be the main beneficiary.
Having recently completed a prolonged $135 million restoration of the Grand Palais — a vast, light-drenched glass and steel palace originally built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition here — the French Culture Ministry has been struggling to find a mission for the space, which is 150 feet wide, 660 feet long and 150 feet tall at its highest point.
"Sonnenschiff" (Sun Ship), a 2007 sculpture made of concrete, earth, iron, lead and sunflowers.
At the same time the government has been trying to kick-start public interest in contemporary art for several years now. Last year it sponsored "La Force de l'Art" ("The Strength of Art"), an exhibition of French-based artists at the Grand Palais. But the show was poorly received, not least because the art was overwhelmed by the space.
Monumenta, then, is designed both to show off the Grand Palais and to create a buzz around today's new art.
For Mr. Kiefer it also represents his grand debut in Paris. A soft-spoken and introspective man, he made his name in Germany and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s with large-format paintings and lead sculptures that stirred buried memories of the Holocaust and delved into the myths of Germany's past.
Britons discovered his art through an installation at the Royal Academy of Arts and a show at the White Cube Gallery in London. His work also features in the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Bilbao, in northwestern Spain, which, by coincidence, is holding a survey exhibition of his recent paintings through Sept. 3.
A detail from "Palmsonntag" (Palm Sunday), a piece in which Mr. Kiefer revisits the traditional iconography of Christ's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The paintings include mud and palm fronds soaked in plaster.
But while Mr. Kiefer presented six 30-foot-high paintings in the chapel of the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière in 2000 and held a show at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac here last year, it is only now that the Parisian public is being introduced to the unusual work he has been developing at La Ribaute, his retreat outside Barjac in southern France. While "Falling Stars" includes new paintings, Mr. Kiefer has transferred some of La Ribaute to the Grand Palais by building seven stand-alone houses, or galleries, each some 50 feet high, and bringing three concrete towers that normally stand on his property. This installation has in turn had the desired effect of occupying the palace, both physically and visually.
His show's title is itself a reference to the Grand Palais and its glass roof. "We are beneath the sky, below the firmament," he told reporters.
Yet as much as with his constructions, Mr. Kiefer fills the space with the visual and intellectual force of his art, much of it inspired by literature, notably the poetry of the Romanian Paul Celan and the Austrian Ingeborg Bachmann, the Bible and cabalistic writings. Mr. Kiefer himself has often noted that in his youth he wavered between becoming a writer and a painter.
In "House number IV" (Aperiatur Terra), the canvases are dotted with constellations of brightly-colored flowers
No less distinctive are the materials he uses, with sunflowers, branches, pieces of cloth, terra cotta pottery, plaster, dried mud and lead objects often attached to thick layers of paint.
Similarly he creates what he calls books with sheets of lead, some of which he rescued from Cologne Cathedral when its roof was being replaced some years ago.
The show's first house, "Land of Fog," inspired by Bachmann's poem of the same name, presents a single painting that suggests a sacrificial Aztec pyramid. At its foot lies a naked man — "It is me," Mr. Kiefer said — below a large terra cotta heart attached to the painting.
The second house, which takes its name from Celan's poem "The Secret of the Ferns," presents 44 paintings, most of them incorporating pieces of fern partly buried in dried clay. They are accompanied by three concrete bunkers that, exhibition notes explain, represent invincibility and invisibility. (The fern too, according to Northern European myth, proffers invisibility.)
Just one painting occupies the third house, a large oil called "The Milky Way," which evokes the firmament, and the fourth house, "Aperiatur Terra," presents three muddy landscapes. Unusually for Mr. Kiefer, who prefers to work with brown, black and gray paint, these oils include splashes of blue, pink and yellow, suggesting flowers.
"Journey to the End of Night," which includes a series of paintings with small ships made of lead, is a tribute to the novel by Louis Ferdinand Celine.
The fifth house, a tribute to Louis-Ferdinand Céline's book "Journey to the End of the Night," is among the most powerful, with 30 paintings of stormy seas to which, in many cases, the artist has attached crudely made lead warships, some of them rusting and close to sinking.
In the sixth house Mr. Kiefer has placed a disturbing bookshelf of lead "pages" interspersed with sheets of glass, some of which have already fallen to the ground and shattered like "Falling Stars," the name of this segment. Finally, in "Palm Sunday," 33 paintings, many including palm leaves, and a fallen palm tree evoke Jesus' entry to Jerusalem.
Standing among the houses are two precarious-looking concrete towers along with a third, "Dashed Hope," which has collapsed and symbolizes Mr. Kiefer's belief that everything is continually changing.
"What interests me is the transformation, not the monument," he explained. "I don't construct ruins, but I feel ruins are moments when things show themselves. A ruin is not a catastrophe. It is the moment when things can start again."
It is through this very process that Mr. Kiefer seemingly finds relief from the pessimism and melancholy that permeate much of his art.
"What you see is despair," he said. " I am completely desperate because I cannot explain why I am here. It's more than mourning, it's despair."
He paused, then added, "But to survive, you build, you create illusions."
Mr. Kiefer, photographed on May 29 at the opening of "Sternenfall" (Falling Stars).
Anselm Kiefer's "Falling Stars," the first exhibition in the Monumenta series, runs through July 8 at the Grand Palais, 3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower, Paris; monumenta.com or 33 1 44-13-17-17.