I have been an admirer of Anselm Kiefer for quite some time. He was likely the first contemporary painter I began following, way back while I was in high school – decades ago. I noticed a few weeks ago that the Bermondsey location of the Whitecube Gallery, (here in London), had a Kiefer exhibition currently on, titled "Walhalla". While a great admirer, I wasn't enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing another Kiefer show. This would be his 3rd substantial exhibition in London in just over a couple of years. The last was a massive retrospective at the Royal Academy, and not long before was a solo exhibition at the Whitecube Bermondsey, not an insignificant space. As both exhibitions were good, I didn't think it possible to better. I prepared myself for disappointment, and decided to take a look.
Was I ever wrong.
Walhalla, continues Kiefer's fascination, and bricolage of (Norse) mythology, history, and landscape. One enters through the installation "Walhalla, 1992-2016", which takes up just over half of the exhibition. Kiefer takes full advantage of the gallery's layout with this installation. The long main corridor, is dimly lit with bare bulbs. Lining the corridor are makeshift hospital gurneys, with mattresses and bedding of lead. Labels, with the names of what appear to be gods (Thor) and cultural figures (Dürer) hang from each. The walls are covered in sheets of lead, floor to ceiling. What has happened here? Walhalla is the afterlife for the glorious –– a heaven, but this has the feel of a First World War field hospital. The installation continues to 3 smaller side rooms. The lead lined walls and dim bare bulbs follow. The first room contains 4 lead beds arranged around a tall glass case containing a metallic branch, suspended upturned. The next, a metal boulder (asteroid?) resting on a large winged lead bed. The third, an archive containing racks, drawers and vaults with dusty strewed photographs and artefacts. It is an immersive environment that transports the viewer somewhere.
Across the hall are 3 naturally lit white walled exhibition spaces. In the central room a large 3 story spiral staircase leads to the ceiling. Suspended from the staircase are aged white dresses, that appear to have been pulled out of some dark damp place. The remaining two rooms contain paintings and artefacts. The paintings, in his signature deep impasto, on a massive billboard scale (one is 5x8m!), are almost exclusively landscape. Many are of scenes with a road winding to the horizon through a pastoral field, a view not unlike what would have come from an impressionist’s brush. Though, these canvases are not of that past, and have been subjected to some sort of transformation and decay. Flows of bitumen have oozed and frozen over the surface of a couple. Pigmented burns and stains intrude other. Throughout the landscapes are rough painted cutouts of the familiar rickety concrete towers Kiefer installed at his property in France. These are not pristine, freshly painted canvas' but ones that have seen better days. They have been damaged from age (eons), or perhaps travel, trans-dimensional travel.
Walking into Walhalla felt like entering a tomb. The long corridor with side chambers reminded me of a visit to the tombs at the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Though this isn't a tomb from anywhere on earth. It is a tomb from a parallel universe in the past or future, perhaps unearthed on the moon next to Kubric's monolith. Other pieces of the exhibition feel like relics looted from this other place. Visions of dystopia? A warning?
I must admit to my astonishment of this exhibition. I really didn't think he could add more to what I've seen over recent years. But he’s accomplished this on an immense scale, with highly fascinating work. It's hard to believe this volume and quality of work is from an artist into his 70's. Glad to be in a profession where one seems to improve with age. Kiefer's star is burning very very bright, perhaps going supernova. For me, this was far more than an exhibition, it was a lesson in art.
Must see, on till Feb 12.