What would German painting look like without World War 2 weighing so heavily on the oeuvre?
More pinks and sky blue in the palette I would hope.
Yet despite the hopeful Jewish mantra for a homeland, this grimly gray, gargantuan opera set of decrepit detritus from fascism and war leaves me with little more than angst to go on.
The powerhouses of Kiefer and Richter have always dominated German post war art, with Joseph Beuys fueling Kiefer’s flame. Although Richter has usually been seen as the virtuoso performer with a huge retrospective at MOMA, Kiefer is no slouch. His mega panoramic treatises from the early 70’s such as “Germany’s Spiritual Heroes” broke new ground in the heroic scale department, and were actually pretty good paintings. His use of cast lead to fabricate open book pages took an innovative to approach sculptural media, and led (no pun intended) to the ever-popular “floor piece” requirement for big time Chelsea painting exhibits. (this trend has mitigated somewhat recently, nothing on the floor in the Marden or Nozkowski shows)
The Gagosian space on W 24 St is well sited for catering to the over-sized, well fed ego (and art) of art star luminaries such as Richard Serra, whose piece “Ali vs Frazier”, a solid Buick sized chunk of forged steel graced the floors of that august showroom.
Kiefer has joined the party, and not been outdone. He is a worthy heavyweight opponent for Serra, and NY@J carries on the tradition of bigger is better (or at least bigger).
This heavy-handed, over bearing, and over crowded conglomeration of intimidating art objects actually manages to make a succinct impression despite itself. Its like wandering through a mausoleum museum dedicated to obtuse memorials fashioned from scraps of arcane wartime memorabilia. The rusty, used-up flavor of these ancient implements of destruction are effectively magnified by items such as a torn up old section of a military aircraft cockpit and an enormous seized up engine block from an allied “Flying Fortress” bomber.
The massive glass vitrines encasing the objects de art steal the show at least as far as the “shock and awe” factor is concerned. Some of these transparent sarcophagi tower 20’ high, bound together by thick steel braces they emphasize entombment as a conceptual construct reflecting Beuysian strictures of containment and isolation.
And if that weren’t enough theres the actual paintings. These monolithic behemoths, slathered in inches thick pigment seem to stride off the wall confronting anyone foolish enough not to be bowing to their magisterial command. The sweeping grandeur of mountain ranges, and snowy, birch-studded woodland (with sticks and leaves of actual brush tucked into the base of the frame) rendered in a roughly hewn manner divest the viewer of any notion of preciousness. These are he-man paintings that don’t fool around.
The dirge-like atmosphere of this glassy menagerie makes it’s oppressive, but morally ambivalent point. Kiefer does not take sides, ultimately he’s accusing us all.
One thing for sure though, this show made me glad I’m not an art handler at Gagosian!