Anselm Kiefer — A Displeased Daddy

At Hangar Bicocca

The image I recall most distinctly from the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the White Cube is that of one gallery assistant. He had the short-back-and-sides haircut but very curly hair on top like hanging ivy. He was very tall, wearing all black and standing in the corner of a white room filled with Kiefer’s apocalyptic sets. The assistant’s clinical presence reminding us all that we were in the company of closely guarded, freshly made ruins. To make matters worse all this was to the soundtrack of two women talking about the curatorial challenges of such a show.

The first time that I went to a Kiefer exhibition was at Hangar Bicocca, a former factory turned into a museum in Milan. It is quite possibly the biggest indoor space that I have ever been to. It is so vast that looking up to the ceiling feels no different from looking into the sky. During that visit I had felt deeply immersed into the world Kiefer presented, it was surreal and gripping. That exhibition did not raise the more difficult questions I would ask myself walking from one transformed room to the next at the White Cube. At this latter visit I was with my little brother who asked if we were at a morgue, followed by a second guess that this was some kind of preserved wartime soldiers’ hospital. His instinctive and art-unknowing impressions further raised questions for me such as how this was any different from walking around the set of a period war drama.

I recently heard about Kiefer again on the grapevine (on the internet really, but that sounds impersonal and I am nothing if not a woman who gets personal). He was in the news in relation to an exhibition of his works in China and was unhappy because the exhibition was taking place without his consent and involvement. This made me reflect on two possible scenarios involving Kiefer’s installations. One where he is the one assembling the works, making all the decisions, stage directing the the entire setting like a performance and the second scenario being one where he is not involved in the assembly process. Would such a presentation then be any more authentic than really good copies of his works(albeit copies that credit the original idea to him)? Would a Kiefer installation minus him not be merely a tribute band performance? I have not arrived at any definitive answers to these for myself or the world. Most of the works at the disputed exhibition in China were privately owned and this highlights the fact that Kiefer is very much a participant in the machinations that see his works priced like independent objects. He has chosen to sell a house and is unhappy that the subsequent owners aren’t asking for his decorating advice. In conclusion I invite you to read as much as possible into this situation. We certainly have grounds to entertain the possibility that Kiefer has control issues and that maybe he wants to have his cake and eat it too; sounds relatable, right? The old cliche stands — famous people are just like us! So the next time you are throwing a tanti and someone tries to make you feel bad about it remember that sometime somewhere a celebrity has felt the exact same way.