Exhibition / Museum
Anselm Kiefer16 Dec 2015 - 18 Apr 2016
The event is over
11h - 21h, every days except tuesdays
Nocturne jusqu'à 23h tous les jeudis soirs
Le Centre Pompidou propose une traversée inédite de l’œuvre de l’artiste allemand Anselm Kiefer.
Cette rétrospective, la première en France depuis trente ans, invite le visiteur à parcourir toute la carrière de Kiefer, de la fin des années 1960 à aujourd’hui, avec cent cinquante œuvres dont une soixantaine de peintures choisies parmi les chefs-d’œuvre incontournables. L’œuvre de Kiefer invite avec intensité le visiteur à découvrir des univers denses et variés, de la poésie de Celan à la philosophie de Heidegger, des traités scientifiques à l’ésotérisme. Installations et peintures monumentales voisinent avec des œuvres sur papier et des objets à la résonance plus intime.
"The Cycles of the World"
Jean-Michel Bouhours – Your last Paris retrospective was in 1984, an exhibition put together in Germany and shown at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris…
Anselm Kiefer – It wasn’t a retrospective, I was still too young for that.
JMB – The exhibition at the Centre Pompidou is the first in France to offer an opportunity to encounter your work as a whole. What are you hoping for out of this exhibition?
AK – First of all, it’s quite a bind, doing a retrospective, because you have to look at old paintings again, look back at the past. I prefer to look to the future. But there were surprises: you see works differently after all those years, your vision changes, the audience too. I myself become a viewer of works that I painted more than forty years ago. My idea of time is that the more you return to the past, the more you advance into the future. It’s a double, contradictory movement that expands time…
JMB – The very idea of exhibition, it seems to me, is difficult for you in a way: letting works out of the studio when your way of proceeding is rather to hang on to them, even to bury them away for a while to let time do its work…
AK – No, not at all, I find it very helpful. I like to show my work. For example, at Barjac, I even constructed buildings to exhibit my work. It’s absolutely necessary that they should leave the studio. That’s when you can see what’s wrong, what’s right.
JMB – A need for distance from the work, for other people’s take on it?
AK – Other people’s collaboration, I would even say.
JMB - Miró talked of “murdering painting” when he started to bring the real into his painting, in the form of pebbles, gravel, and more especially sand. Is there a connection between your work and the historic avant-gardes?
AK – Anti-art…In the late 1960s, when I was at art school in Karlsruhe, I went round all the studios to persuade them to stop painting! Sometimes you have to adopt a radical posture to be able to start afresh.
JMB – In drawing on the symbolism of materials of hermetic systems such as alchemy or Kabbalah, you have enriched your painting by introducing new materials: lead, ash, electrolytic chemistry…
AK – When I was a student at Freiburg, I used food, pasta. I stuck pasta onto the canvas using nail varnish. A bit perverse, eh? But it wasn’t bad. I also used lentils, eggs… That’s a long time ago now. I worked with non-traditional materials long before the 1980s. I’m not a painter of art for art’s sake. I don’t paint to produce a painting. Painting for me is reflection and research […] and not research on painting, either. I was very glad, for instance, when I got to know Jewish mythology in Jerusalem, and alchemy at the same time, because alchemy and the Kabbalah go with each other… I could finally see a reason to paint. One of my motivations for painting, as well, was German history. It was research on myself, on who I am, on where I was born and so on. And then afterwards I looked for a different reason, because I always need a reason. I can’t do a painting just to have a painting. Matisse didn’t do painting just to have a painting.
JMB – The issue of the self-portrait has arisen at two points in your work. In the late 1960s, with the “Occupations” and “Heroic Symbols”, you assumed, you gave expression to what you believed to be your responsibility toward history. In the 1980s, no more happy in your own skin, you lay down in what in yoga is called the “corpse position”. On both these occasions, wasn’t it a matter of a work of mourning?
AK – Yes, a work of mourning, but it was also a work of “Dada”… Because when I raised my hand, it was a bit like Chaplin… It’s not just serious, it’s also…what’s the word?
JMB – Mockery?
AK – Yes, a parody, a satire… On the other hand, when I lay down in that yoga position, it was connected with Buddhism, the sense of being submerged in a nature in constant transformation. You die, your body decays and nourishes a tree. It’s more related to the question of biological cycles, the history of the cosmos, yes, that it, the history of the cosmos.
JMB – You’ve recently gone back to German history, with “Morgenthau Plan”, work that we saw three years ago at the Gagosian gallery…
AK – It was a kind of despair, because I’d done paintings of flowers, I love flowers, flowers everywhere… But I felt guilty, and combining them with “Morgenthau Plan” gave the whole thing a different, more cynical aspect. Morgenthau [Treasury Secretary under US president Franklin Roosevelt, who came up with a plan to prevent Germany becoming a military power again after the Second World War – Ed.] wanted Germany to be an agricultural country and nothing else. A bit like the dream of the Greens today: flowers, wheat… There’s a cynicism in me, in this way of treating an awful episode from the aftermath of the war in the guise of a hymn to the beauty of nature.
JMB – There is in fact a strong contrast…
AK – Contrast? It’s too…
JMB – …weak?
AK – Professional! No, it’s rather that that is how I gave the paintings a raison d’être.
JMB – The question of cycles and the cosmos is central to your work. You associate the process of artistic creation with the process of destruction and ruin…
AK – Yes, the cycle. Not as in Catholicism or Communism: it’s not a matter of a line rising to paradise like that [his hand gestures upward]. That’s an eschatological idea. The Catholics have a paradise, Communism leads to a paradise, the end of history. For me that’s impossible. How can you have an end when you know nothing of the beginning? What was there before the Big Bang? Several Big Bangs? We have no idea.
JMB – In the exhibition, there’s one room devoted to vitrines. You produced some in Germany in the Eighties, which are today installed at Höpfingen, one of your old studios. Is that a permanent, definitive installation?
AK – Yes, they’ll be staying there forever.
JMB – So we were unable to show them in Paris; and as a result, you decided on a new cycle of production?
AK – First of all, I wanted to make a great corridor with the Arsenal [the “Arsenal” is Kiefer’s stock of materials and objects that may be of use in future paintings], so I put some order into my collection of things, watercolours, all sorts of things. It was that that led to the vitrines. For I then came to think it wouldn’t be a good thing to show the Arsenal, I didn’t want to reveal my tools like that. I preferred to take advantage of the order I had introduced into the collections to produce vitrines, choosing objects that reacted with each other, or against each other, which gave me ideas.
JMB – The vitrine comes from the cabinet of curiosities, and Modernism made great use of it, from the Surrealists to Joseph Beuys… What does the vitrine represent in your work? Why a vitrine rather than a painting?
AK – The vitrine is like an aperçu.
JMB – A witticism, or a flash of insight?
AK – A short-circuit. When I wander about my studio in the evening, a bit tired, when I’m not working any longer, I’m not any longer in that logic but in another world: I see my studio, I wander about my brain. I see the synapses… The vitrine is a detail, an Ausschnitt…
JMB – … a sample, an extract…
AK – … and the synapses meet. Yes, that what it is.
JMB – You’ve talked about the Arsenal as a kind of hell, a depository of society’s waste, of objects eliminated and awaiting redemption…
AK – The redemption is discovery. I discover one thing, I discover another, I put them together and sometimes it works, it’s a success.
JMB – That’s to say they take on meaning?
AK – Exactly. People looked for a long time for the entrance to Hell. Some looked for it near Naples, around Vesuvius and so on. They were really looking for it and were disappointed not to be able to locate it geographically. And then science, Newton, all that happened, and now no-one’s looking any longer…
JMB – In the Forum, the Centre Pompidou’s entrance hall, we’re showing an installation very like the one you built at Barjac. It’s a work that makes one think of the cinema, a sort of big projection box with its strips, its ribbons of images…
AK – Steigend, steigend, sinke nieder. [“In rising, rising, sink into the depths”]. The title is from Goethe’s Faust, when he descends to the Mothers [mysterious subterranean divinities – Ed.] I’ve pasted onto strips of lead all the photos that I’ve ever taken since I started taking pictures. Like films, but its paradoxical because the point of film is that it’s transparent, that it lets light through so it can be screened. Pasted onto lead, these images are no longer viewable, visible. It’s a display of my life, because these are the photos I’ve taken all my life, thousands of photos. And yet I’m hiding them, it’s a cache.
JMB – The room isn’t visible from outside, unlike the cinema where its precisely the transparency of the film strip that allows the image to get out, to be projected outward…
AK – It’s not a projection, it’s an introspection, you might say.
JMB – In general, is there an eschatological intent, a representation of the end of days in your work?
AK – There are citations: Ragnarök, for example. In Scandinavian myth, Ragnarök is the end of the world. But for me, it’s not a matter of an end but of a cycle. Today, people worry about changes, animals disappearing, the disruption of nature. Yet thirty million years ago, a meteorite killed off three-quarters of existing species. Nearly all living things disappeared, and yet another phase of evolution began, about which we still know very little… Adalbert Stifter, an Austrian poet, described stones as if they were human and humans as if they were stones.* Stones may have a consciousness of which we know nothing. A biologist once told me of his experiments with plants and music: putting loudspeakers in a greenhouse, he played Mozart on one side, disco on the other. The plants turned toward the Mozart… That doesn’t prove that Mozart is to be preferred, but that plants hear and discriminate.
JMB – The Centre Pompidou recently staged an exhibition of Le Corbusier. At a key moment in your development as an artist, you visited Ronchamp and then spent three contemplative weeks at the monastery of La Tourette…
AK – I saw the Ronchamp chapel in the Franche-Comté when I was 17 or 18. Three years later, I went to stay at La Tourette. The head of the monastery, a Dominican, an intellectual, had become friends with Le Corbusier. He wasn’t a fundamentalist, he was open-minded, and he used to discuss things with Le Corbusier, who was an atheist. There were many details in the monastery that I found inspiring, notably a terrace with a wall so high the Dominicans couldn’t see the landscape, just the sky. […] It was simultaneously spiritual and cynical. A building like Ronchamp is so inspiring, so beautiful and radical as to be authoritarian, almost fascist in its idea. […] As artist can have these kinds of ideas, like Le Corbusier, who wanted to flatten Paris, but should they become real, they’re stupid, monstrous.
JMB – And you yourself, once installed at Barjac, in 1993, you started making use in your work of this concrete that Le Corbusier had introduced you to, as it were?
AK – Yes. At Barjac, I used plain, rough exposed concrete. As you would for a sculpture: you make an armature, a wooden formwork, you pour in the concrete, then you strip away the forms; the process remains visible in the result, it’s interesting. I’ve also used containers as forms, to create a wall. I’ve worked without architect or engineer, I’ve built very tall buildings. As a child, when I used to play with the bricks of the ruins near our house… The amphitheatre at Barjac, for example, which is very large, I wanted it to lean a little… There wasn’t much in the way of foundation so I was expecting a certain movement, but in fact it stands up very well. I placed the containers and I started, without foundations, with an assistant or two, in a very basic sort of way.
JMB – You make little reference to the exact sciences. Are they too unpoetic for you?
AK – The exactitude of science is always a preliminary exactitude. The sciences are only correct for a while, and to a certain degree. Then another theory comes along and refutes the first. In my paintings, which I put up there, I’m also looking for a definitive exactitude. I find much inspiration in science, even if the sciences are today very separate from each other, as are the scientists. They don’t succeed in relating the two systems, the macrocosm and the microcosm. Einstein didn’t succeed, and he tried all his life. We seek a comprehensive vision of the world. For that, you need a presentiment, a great image.
in Code Couleur, n°24, January-April 2016, pp. 10-17
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