Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Thumbs down for Anselm

Before I get to the top of my top ten, I was thinking about the one that didn't make the list this year. 
(One on its own, unlike last year - maybe I'm getting better at choosing them.)

That was Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy  - I got an impression of the Emperor’s New Clothes from this one.

Kiefer was born in Germany just before the end of the second world war, and grew up in the guilty post war era. In his twenties he painted figures and photographed himself giving the Nazi salute, which made him fairly unpopular in his home country, and gave him a shock value something like the Chapman Brothers’ reputation today. It occurred to me today that Basil Fawlty made much the same point better and was funny about it too.

(Interestingly one of the captions suggested that his reputation was rescued by Jewish art buyers in New York – this was mentioned in an aside, I thought this story would have been worth pursuing.)

 It must have been easier to shock people then. Mimicking the Nazis when people were just recovering from their traumatic history seemed less a thoughtful political statement and more like an adolescent gesture to me. 

The show seemed keen to stress that he is intellectual, weighty, dark. The work was dark and heavy but sometimes the captions made me laugh. The way artspeak ascribes intellectual depth to, you know, normal stuff that normal people do and like.

Like it's more important because an artist is doing it. He likes poetry. But so do lots of people, does that make him an intellectual giant?  He’s into theology and mysticism – or ‘Woo woo’ as one of my friends at Borders called it when we used to buy books for this section. (imagine someone doing an impression of a ghost). 

The work got bigger and bigger. Paintings incorporated straw, mud, bricks, wood. One bit of light relief was a room of paintings sparkling with diamonds. You could see people leaning in too close and setting off beeping sensors, hilarious. 

He makes big books out of lead, and bound some slightly soft porn type watercolour sketches into big journals. He made some linocuts of the Rhine, made into an installation, which was attractive.  He owns a vast private estate in France and fills it up with enormous installations. He is successful, and he has a reputation. 

Hmm.  I don’t know what it is, I just don’t buy it. 


  1. http://www.houseofillustration.org.uk/get_involved/the-book-illustration-competition

    Don't know if you know about that, or if you'd be interested, but thought I'd mention it.

  2. I hadn't seen it! Thank you!

    I must go there too, it reminds me I haven't been to the House of Illustration yet. And they've got Paula Rego on at the moment.