In Paris, from the gravity of Anselm Kiefer to the grace of Paul Celan



Definitely, Anselm Kiefer is in the spotlight in France. After having been commissioned for works for the Pantheon in 2020, it is celebrated at the ephemeral Grand Palais with an XXL exhibition. In 2016, he had the right to a retrospective at the Center Pompidou, a year after an exhibition at the National Library and a year before another at the Rodin Museum in dialogue with this sculptor.

→ READ. Creations by Anselm Kiefer and Pascal Dusapin enter the Panthéon

In 2007, he was already the first contemporary artist invited to present his works under the nave of the Grand Palais as part of Monumenta, before Richard Serra, Christian Boltanski or Daniel Buren. This place is currently under construction, it is at Champ-de-Mars in the ephemeral structure, designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, that the painter has deployed his monumental canvases, completed by a handful of sculptures and installations.

Its foundation should soon open in the Gard

The imminence of the opening of the Kiefer Foundation, in Barjac in the Cévennes, in 2022, undoubtedly explains this increased attention in its favor. (read the benchmarks). In addition, President Emmanuel Macron has made no secret of the fact that he has forged, since entering the Elysee Palace, ties of friendship with the German artist. Born in 1945 in Donaueschingen in Baden-Württemberg, he is haunted by the memory of war and the Shoah.

And it is on purpose that the Head of State chose him, in a very political gesture of reconciliation, to accompany the entry of Maurice Genevoix, and Those of 14, at the Pantheon. In response, Kiefer offered the six glass sculptures created for the occasion, valued at 2.7 million euros. This new spotlight given to its work by Chris Dercon, president of the RMN-Grand Palais, comes at the right time as France prepares to take the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

At the ephemeral Grand Palais, those familiar with the artist will rediscover his great landscapes of the apocalypse. In the middle of four old sculptures and installations, including a bomber nailed to the ground, weighted with lead, nineteen paintings are erected like high stelae, showing devastated fields covered with snow, skies set ablaze by explosions, silted bunkers, a drifting submarine …

A real dialogue with the poet

The frames, often monumental with Kiefer, here reach gigantic proportions (one is more than 8 by 15 meters), the better to compete with the vast space, plunged into semi-darkness. Deliberate contrast? Under the intense lighting of the spotlights, the colors of the canvases also appear warmer, with bursts of orange lacquer, sparkles of gold leaf and gaps of light reminiscent of the mystical storms of Greco.

Kiefer dedicated this hanging to the poet Paul Celan, who was sent to a forced labor camp and lost his parents in the Shoah. The verses of this Romanian author have been recurring for a long time in his paintings, brief quotes. But this time, it is as if the painter was establishing a real dialogue with the poet, at the very heart of his compositions.

In the lower third of the paintings, Kiefer first recycled some of his large landscapes, sometimes painted several years ago. Views worked in a thick paste, in high relief, where ears of wheat clump together, there ferns, elsewhere children’s clothes or shards. We can see direct echoes of the images of Celan, the “Dark milk of dawn” the “Winter wind field”, “A volley of ax” where the “Ears of the night” that “A word / in the mouths of fakes, inclines to life”.

A demonstration of power

To these fields or shores, the artist added two additional high frames, opening a vast celestial space dedicated to the suicide poet. There, against a background of cosmic clouds, lightly brushed and reminiscent of a school blackboard, the painter simply inscribed in white chalk Celan’s poems in German, written after the Shoah. Like mantras, woven with shards and flashes, that the painter would recite to himself at 76, to reclaim the broken language of his childhood. Constellations guiding the traveler lost in the night of the world.

→ READ. A visit to Anselm Kiefer’s studio

However, it is difficult not to feel a little overwhelmed by this demonstration of power, where the excessiveness of the formats competes with the debauchery of the materials, the centered, almost martial perspectives, the abundance of quotes and references. Especially since faced with the long poems in German inscribed in the paintings, the non-German-speaking visitor is left alone, without any translation being offered. We come out impressed. Not necessarily affected.

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The Kiefer Foundation is expected to open in 2022

In gestation for many years, the Kiefer Foundation should open in Barjac, in the Gard, in 2022.

The artist, leaving his native Germany, settled thirty years ago in a former silkworm farm, surrounded by a vast estate. Little by little, he built spectacular installations (undergrounds, towers, amphitheater) to house his sculptures and paintings.

After discussion with the French authorities, the Eschaton-Anselm Kiefer Foundation, under Austrian law, was created in 2017 to ensure the sustainability of this vast ensemble and of the artist’s work.

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