The famed German artist and sculptor Anslem Kiefer may have been showing at the White Cube Bermondsey since November, but this is an exhibition for reflecting on what was and what is to come. With a slight air of melancholy, uncertainty and a less than comfortable atmosphere, ‘Walhalla’, the exhibition refers to the mythical place in Norse mythology, a paradise for those slain in battle, as well as to the Walhalla neo-classical monument, built by Ludwig I King of Bavaria in 1842 to honour heroic figures in German history.
Curcumnavigating the hospital beds made for a sombre experience, as the oxidised lead, fold-up steel beds are set close together and draped with dark grey crumpled lead sheets and covers. Awkwardly letting people pass made me feel that I had stumbled into a place I didn’t belong; then almost in a dream-like state of mind, the black and white photograph depicting a lone figure walking away into a bleak, wintery landscape made me feel as though I was following a figure into the distance of their life. The whole installation is dark, sombre and sparsely lit by a series of bare light bulbs, suggesting an institutional dormitory or battle-field hospital.
Around the gallery, Kiefer has introduced new paintings that employ a range of media – oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac and clay – to emphasise the space of painting as a threshold into a mythic, imaginative realm. Again, Kiefer installs a sense of the unfamiliar yet mixing a sense of destruction and a post-apocalpitcal outlook. Featuring a series of high towers are set amid desolate landscapes, their stacked forms exploding and dissolving into clouds of deep black or caustic blue smoke. A familiar motif in the artist’s work, the towers are based on his own sculptures made from rough concrete casts of shipping containers – which you may have seen a while back outside of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly.
This is a must see exhibition (open until 12th February 2017) that will have you captivated, enthralled and completely engaged throughout. I spent a good hour and a half here, and for good reason – whilst beauty may not be the immediate word that springs to mind with Kiefer’s work, there is a sense of paradise which instills a sense of dark beauty that is contained within many of us.