Anselm Kiefer: Sculpture and Paintings from the Hall Collection
Post #1242 • October 6, 2008, 10:31 AM • 4 Comments
North Adams, MA - Anselm Kiefer's barnacled landing strips of Teutonic guilt have always looked a bit minor-league to me despite their scale, paint handling, debris, and subject matter, and I had never been able to figure out why until I saw some of them hanging next to his old teacher. "Anselm Kiefer: Sculpture and Paintings from the Hall Collection" at MassMoCA intrudes into the room where Joseph Beuys's Lightning with Stag in its Glare is installed, illustrating how the guru's powers of overearnestness, loading even the roughest objects with arty preciousness, passed to the disciple. The cure, it turns out, is lightening up a bit, not with Fluxus tomfoolery but actual joy. Kiefer has begun painting flowers in his signature hellscapes, one of which is entitled Let the Earth Open and Bring Forth a Savior. At first take this looks like a setup for one his standard Wagnerian groans, but instead it delivers Christ returning triumphant as poppies, and the bits of pure color go a long way towards enlivening Kiefer's vistas of clotted oil. His 1998 Air Battle in England, with two lead planes tracing curlicues around each other on a cloudy canvas, shows an earlier, fairly convincing attempt at mixing the comic, the serious, and the poigniant. Kiefer has a funny bone after all, which makes his work significantly more likable.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a long stack of concrete arcs, with rebar jutting out of the sides like broken bones. "Étrots Sont les Vaisseux (Narrow are the Vessels), a 2002 sculpture forcibly removed from the Hall premises by an overly eager preservation society in Connecticut, has less impact than its scale would seem to call for. While this tends to plague his work in general, it causes his sculptures to look especially flat, particularly ones that don't evince his hand. Nevertheless it could teach a thing or two to lesser practitioners of the detritus aesthetic, in that it doesn't scream out its entitlement to serious regard by virtue of size and junkiness. It is better than that.