In October 2011, White Cube Gallery was opened on Bermondsey Street. The building was formerly a 1970s warehouse and was converted into 58,000 square feet of interior space making it, at launch, Europe’s biggest commercial gallery. Famed for it’s blinding white walls and exclusively square exhibition spaces, it has been utilised as an important artistic platform from artists such as Tracey Emin to Liu Wei.
Today, you walk into the White Cube gallery and instead of being faced with its famed white walls, you are plunged into a melancholy metallic chamber, in which hospital beds with lead blankets and pillows are chillingly alined, creating an ambience of sterility and hostility: rusted machine guns rest on some of the beds as if to imply ongoing conflict to the viewer.
Entitled in response to Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro: “Life is a parachute voyage and not what you’d like to think it is”, Kiefer’s exhibition responds specifically to one of the poets’ passages: “One day, I gathered up my parachute and said: ‘Between two swallows and a star.’ Here death is coming closer like the earth to a falling balloon. […]And now my parachute drops from dream to dream through the spaces of death.” The specificity with which Kiefer’s work is bound up with the poetic intentions of Huidobro demonstrates the intense artistic relationship between the two, and the ways in which art can act as a medium of communication, if indirectly. Few contemporary artists match Kiefer’s wide-ranging parameters, and his work continues to contrast moving imagery with perceptive critical analysis.
Nothing about Anselm Kiefer’s current exhibition is small-scale; his large-scale sculptures tower up to the top of the rooms, brushing the ceiling nine metres above you. Themes synonymous throughout the exhibition deeply explore death and decay and ta durable preoccupation with the afterlife.
Kiefer, with his deep-rooted new exhibition, arguably presents history as a nightmare: he shows us that justice rarely prevails, rather disarray rules. Over the years, Kiefer’s art has long served to demonstrate his perception of liberal democracy as a frail moment of lightness and purity, surrounded by forces of evil that threaten to overcome. Does this perspective ring true in the context of the troubles of modernity and battles of democracy that we face today?
The scale and power of Kiefer’s ideologies have manifested themselves in his current White Cube exhibition that emotes feelings of immersion and depth: the gallery has been relit to present these works suitably. The large-scale glass pane, that acts as a platform for a primary component of Kiefer’s message, directly responds to the spatial proportions of the 9 x 9 x 9 (metre) gallery. The glass pane measures over 6 metres tall in height and spanning the entire width of the gallery space. Contained within it is an old rusted bicycle, discarded and laid on its side on a bed of dry earth reminiscent of drought. From the bicycle spill a number of thin strings tied to it, connected to a white silk parachute above, listlessly draped over a barbed-wire gate. Despite its inanimate shapelessness, the scene convincingly conveys a sense of life that belies it-the parachute appears as if in continuous upwards motion, notwithstanding its entrapment by the glass ceiling. Perhaps embodying the concept of absenteeism, the sculpture convincingly addresses Kiefer’s common themes of life and death, demonstrating the continuity in his artwork. Furthermore, the metaphorical implication of heaven and hell emphasises the dual nature of aestheticism versus sorrow, suggesting how human toil and endeavour may exist as a continuous cycle.
Some of the smaller galleries aside continue this emotional journey: dusty storage rooms covered in dirt, abandoned scrolls of film. Continuity proceeds into another gallery-space where the walls are coated in slick-like reflective black plastic, displaying within it another lead-lined bed, yet this one is caught up in a struggle between the freedom offered by its powerful angelic wings, and the huge boulder on it that weighs it down. I am fascinated by the interplay of consistent themes of freedom, power and democracy that continuously interplay throughout Kiefer’s work.
This exhibition is undoubtedly enthralling solely as an extensive piece of installation art, but ultimately its production value is just the surface representation for Kiefer’s deeper contemplations. His ideologies are so deeply invested in the world that they seemingly come alive in the three-dimensional gallery space at White Cube. Overall, this exhibition serves to overwhelm: Kiefer’s works are amazing. Breathtaking, extraordinary and ultimately mind-blowing.
Kiefer’s exhibition runs at White Cube until the 11th November: Check out the website below: