Anselm Kiefer @ The White Cube

7th June 2023 – 20th August 2023

Finnegans Wake

To explore an Anselm Kiefer exhibition is to be immersed in a dystopian world of memory, decay and the unbearable weight of the passage of time. The scale of the installations and paintings are so immense that the brain takes time to register and assimilate what the eyes are seeing.

‘Finnegans Wake’ is the third in a trilogy of Kiefer’s exhibitions at The White Cube and it demonstrates, if nothing else, that Kiefer is still at the top of his artistic game. It’s a dialogue with Joyce’s literarily complex and dense ‘Finnegans Wake’; a construction of a world around short extracts from the text. ‘Three in one – one and three’, ‘run for his money’ and ‘seedy ejaculations’ are given physical form.

‘Walhalla’ the first of the trilogy tackled Norse myth and its afterlife in art, music and literature. The second, ‘Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot’ brought together Greek mythology and speculations of string theory (not altogether successfully) so ‘Finnegans Wake’ continues this literary exploration. It’s a valid point to say that extracting short sentences and phrases and presenting them out of context isn’t so much an exploration but more a visual response by the artist. However Kiefer’s ability to work with a huge range materials is nothing short of remarkable. Paint, lead, concrete, sand, vitrines, sunflowers, supermarket trolleys, barbed wire and bones are worked to create a claustrophobic world of the conscious and unconscious.

Whereas Mike Nelson’s (see review) claustrophobic worlds work on a micro level, Kiefers’ are suffocating on a macro level – the sheer physical weight of the installations give the viewer the impression of being entombed in a lead-lined sarcophagus.

It’s not possible to pick out an individual piece as being any more important than another. This exhibition works on the viewer in its immersive entirety and it has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. However an attempt to convey this experience is shown in the selection of images below:

‘Marx my word fort’ (2021 - 2023)

‘Finnegans Wake’ Installation View (2023)

‘And oil paint use a pumme’ (2023)

‘Arsenal’ (1970 - 2023)

‘Phall if you will, rise you must’ (2017 – 2023)

‘HCE’ (2023)

‘Arsenal’ - detail (1970 - 2023)

‘Arsenal’ - detail (1970 - 2023)

Examine every piece and allow yourself to be part of Kiefer’s world and you’ll exit the exhibition a different person to the one you went in as.

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