Anselm Kiefer at Gagosian Gallery

Installation view of Next Year in Jerusalem at Gagosian Gallery

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Kitsch doesn’t come more high-flown or egregious than the Anselm Kiefer exhibition currently on view at the 24th Street outpost of Gagosian Gallery.

Was it only twenty-some years ago when Kiefer was hailed, regularly and with no little sense of urgency, as a Great Artist? All that dour ambition, all those acres of encrusted paint and that gravitas–Kiefer seemed the genuine article. Then there was his trenchant (and troubling) relationship with German history or, rather, Germany’s horrors:  Kiefer’s initial renown involved his aping the Nazi salute.

Pictures of Kiefer doing the Hitlergruß can be seen at Gagosian, having been re-contextualized and presumably redeemed in Occupations (2010), a compendium of enlarged photographs mounted on lead and hung inside a charred structure reminiscent of the cattle cars in which Jews were shipped to the death camps.  The gallery tells us that the intent behind the work is to “remind [the viewer] of what has happened and what can still happen in the world”.  You mean, like an overbearing artist pimping unspeakable tragedy for his own careerist ends?

A friend versed in Judaism informs me that Kiefer did his homework vis-a-vis the Kabbalah, the impetus for a recent series of monumental reliquaries.  It is, I guess, reassuring to learn that Kiefer boned up on the subject.  Still, the most impressive thing about the resulting pieces isn’t how well they embody otherworldly dimensions, but their chutzpah. Expenditure of money shouldn’t serve as the basis for art criticism, but that’s about all Kiefer has going for him:  The largesse to make big, portentous things.

Then again, Gagosian has made a specialty of just that.

© 2010 Mario Naves

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