Anselm Kiefer: The Man Vs His Art

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of an erstwhile hipster more than those three fateful words: “you’ll love it.” From Avatar to Justin Bieber, currywurst to Tempelhof, high expectations are a punch to the groin of any cultural experience. And so, I felt a strange sense of relief as intrepid BAPs photographer Chris Phillips revealed that Anselm Kiefer’s new show at Galerie Bastian was mediocre at best, and Kiefer himself was downright rude. Now I was primed for boredom and more than a little bit miffed—there was no way I would enjoy this show. And if the work failed to live up to the promise of his genius? I was poised to be scathing, primed to be brutal.

Ultimately, I was utterly and completely shocked by what I saw. "Der Rhein" is monumental—in scope, scale, style and substance. The show tells a story more prosaic than pop, more poetry-in-motion than people magazine. Standing in the cavernous while hall that is Gallery Bastian, I felt ashamed of my earlier insouciance. Who cares if Kiefer was rude—maybe he was tired, maybe he was sick, maybe he’s just sick of having his picture taken; and who am I to walk into a show with preconceived notions with regards to quality? Isn’t it the job of a BAPs reporter to at least aim for the objective, even if we occasionally miss the mark (with intention or otherwise)?

Anselm Kiefer's work. Photo: Chris Phillips

Humbled and overwhelmingly happy to wander among Kiefer’s new work, I relished the chills up my spine as my steps echoed and then came to a stop before each epic landscape. As though the stairs to the gallery space were a mountain I had climbed, as though the black and white prints were a pristine panorama, I felt I had stumbled upon something truly sublime. 

Magic & Mystery of the Mythic River

I am not alone in succumbing to the call of the Rhine. As Kiefer himself details in a moving and personal statement that accompanies the show, the history of the Rhine is woven throughout the art and culture of countries and centuries past and present. And now, in bulky black and white woodcut collage, Kiefer himself memorializes, reimagines, extracts, compiles and evocatively evokes the magic and mystery of the mythic river.

Like a story unfolding, a song being sung, a river flowing, swirling, stopping, sinking, rising, and standing ever-so-still, "Der Rhein" is a journey that every viewer takes for him or herself. I was held in thrall—this was my 2001 a Space Odyssey, my Ring Cycle, my Moveable Feast—every bit as incredible as I was secretly hoping it would be. Now, whether I’ve raised your expectations or lowered them, make your way to Museum Island and take stock for yourself. After all, at the very least there is no chance you’ll be yelled at by an irritable Anselm Kiefer—the river may be ever present, but the artist has most definitely left the building.

  • Galerie Bastian – Anselm Kiefer "Der Rhein" – April 13 – September 14, Tuesday & Friday: 11am-5:30pm, Saturday: 11am-4pm [Estimated price range of works: 50,000+ Euros]

Article by Hannah Nelson-Teutsch