Anselm Kiefer „Bilderstreit“,
exhibition from 14 October 2023 to 25 February ’24 at Museum Voorlinden, The Hague, Netherlands
The private Voorlinden Museum is the Dutch art museum that I have visited most often, since it always has excellent exhibitions about prominent artists. It is located in a large landscape park close to the see, the only difficulty being how to reach it by public transport (a local bus and some kilometers of walking).
This time I visited Anselms Kiefers “Bilderstreit”, translated “Image Dispute” maybe referring to the old battle between figurative versus abstract painting from the 70s, but more hinting at Kiefers constant battle with his own work, which he sees as ever changing. For him a work of art is never ready, he will attack it with a flamethrower, bolt cutter, axe, spatula, red-hot liquid lead, or by immersing it in an electrolysis bath.
Kiefer in his own words: “In the past I was always in despair over not being able to create a “masterpiece”, I thought it was because of a lack of talent, but it is a fundamental principle, the goal is not the finished image, rather, it is the movement, the constant flow, the never-ending change. My paintings are subjected to a true process of destruction: I actually burn them or put them outside, expose them to different weather conditions. Only then they become special, individual.”
Why do I show a painter in a blog about textile art? During his last show at the Venice Palazzo Ducale (Venice Biennale 2022) had shown such a remarkable use of materials like shopping cars, clothes , straw, wood and techniques that I see him as an inspiration for textile artists.
In his Dutch solo-exhibition he included bikes placed on enlarged pages of his diary but also as sculptures, further different kind of vehicles in “Monsalvat” (hinting at the holy grail), a hospital bed in his installation “Winterreise”, named after a song cycle by Franz Schubert (expressing the search of man for himself). I was surprised and pleased by Kiefers recent use of colors, now clear blue and radiant gold, like in “Sichelschnitt ( Sickle Cut)” and in “Aus Herzen und Hirnen sprießen die Halme der Nacht (the stalks of night sprout from hearts and minds)” after a poem by Paul Celan. Even though these huge paintings are looking lovely, it is again about death and the holocaust, an always returning theme in his work
But his most spectacular work in this exhibition is “The Morgenthau-Plan”, a whole hall of the museum showing a wheat field, every wheat stalk made with fabric soaked in plaster, wrapped around metal, than painted, and finished with shellack and gold leaf. This refers to a very controversial plan by Henry Morgenthau of the US minister of finances, to transform Germany -after the Second World War- into an agricultural country. Kiefer always has had very mixt feelings about post-war Germany- not to the pleasure of the German officials- expressing these often with the words of the poet Paul Celan. Many works in the exhibition thus have been named after a poem by Celan, of which Kiefer said that this poet is capable of finding words for inexpressible feelings! Kiefer seemed to be recognized in Holland even before he became known in Germany, due to his friendship with Rudi Fuchs, the former director of the Van der Abbe-Museum in Eindhoven. That is why the main article in the catalogue of “Bilderstreit” is made up of a Rudi Fuchs article from 1979!
I have seen my first Kiefer exhibition back in the 70s in the Kestnergesellschaft in Hannover, and I remember that I was very impressed, also he would not have an exhibition in such a prestigious museum if he was not recognized, so I guess that Kiefer was already recognized in art circles but not loved by German officials because of his critical attitude.
This is very familiar to me because my own German husband had the same attitude and the same criticism of the German politics. The film made by Wim Wenders, also born at the end of World War 2, shows this side of Kiefer, It is said that they became friends during the making of the film ”Anselm”, which one can feel looking at the film itself!
I am very happy that I could see the work of Kiefer in 2022 during the Venice Biennial and now again in Holland, at the beautiful Museum Voorlinden. I guess that I have seen the most spectacular exhibition of the year 2024 already now, and I am happy that I was able to visit it!
A catalogue “Anselm Kiefer -Bilderstreit” has been published by Stichting Voorlinden, Wassenaar Netherlands, 2023, 183 pages, full color, ISBN 978-94-92549-91-4, price approx. 50 Euro