Monday, 9 January 2012

The Mystery of the Cathedrals

Il Mistero delle Cattedrali (The Mystery of the Cathedrals) is the latest in the White Cube gallery's exhibitions of the German artist Anselm Kiefer's work. On this occasion the show is held at the (relatively) new White Cube Bermondsey gallery (above), as opposed to the Hoxton Square and Masons Yard locations of Kiefer's show of Autumn 2009. This time there are nearly twice as many sculptures as paintings on display, such as Opus Magnum below.

Opus Magnum (2010)

In this work it looks as though the 'snake' has wriggled its way out of or through the base, with curved and straight snake-shaped indentations in it (on the front and back respectively) as if it left its mark on the material.

Fulcanelli finis gloriae mundi (1990)

A recurring theme in Kiefer's work seems to be flight, such as the use of shapes that resemble part of or the whole of areoplanes, for example the wing shape in Fulcanelli finis gloriae mundi (above). Attached to this are what look like cables, but these could also be plant forms with long stalks and dried flower heads? Something else that can be found in Richter's previous work is small (black and white) photographs attached together. In the case of Alkahest (below) the photos are joined to form what looks like liquid pouring from a vessel in a thin trail across the floor.

Alkahest (2009)

Sprache der Vogel (1989)

Sprache der Vogel (Language of the Birds) (above) and Samson (below) return us to the flight theme. In Sprache der Vogel what appears to be the wings of a large bird spread wide from a body of old books, giving the work is wonderfully apt title. The almost surreal Samson reminds me of Tote (Dead), a 1988 painting by Gerhard Richter, recently on display at the Tate Modern. In it the bottom half of a (male?) body is lying on the ground underneath a large boulder.

Samson (2010)

Though the works that had the biggest impact on me in this exhibition were Kiefer's large scale paintings. The sheer scale of them as you enter the room, the smell of the oil paint as you get closer and Kiefer's repeated use of three dimensional obects on them. These objects include a decaying brick 'wall', a 'satellite dish', a metal pram and in the case of Il Mistero delle Cattedrali (below) a crane-like structure and a small boulder.

Il Mistero delle Cattredrali (2010-11)

As is often the case with Kiefer's paintings there is the contrast between really seeing the layers and texture of the paint close up, in contrast to the form and detail of the works becoming apparent when viewing them from a distance. This makes the White Cube Bermondsey, with its large rooms and high ceilings, an ideal location for this exhibition.


  1. nicely written. I am currently writing a review about this exhibition, and it is funny to see that, although it seems such a complex body of work, the final overwhelming impression is the same for every spectator..Kiefer really accomlished to impress us and to touch our deepest thoughts and emotions through an almost inexplicable work.

  2. Hello.
    Thanks for reading my blog and for your compliment.
    Its an interesting exhibition, although I was probably more impressed by his previous 'Karfunkelfee'/'The Fertile Crescent' shows at the other 2 White Cube galleries in 2009 (which I wrote a researched/proper review for!).