You’re worried / losing income / rising rent / you take the tourist bus / Southbank to Covent Garden / tourists question you / you’re proud to know the answers / a man cycles by on a retro bike / retro garb / retro moustache / you walk West / cut down Floral Street / heading for the Royal Academy / wonder if you can handle a blockbuster / a rough filling attracts your tongue / you have no dentist / Great Newport street / the old Photographer’s Gallery / over to Gerrard street / a while since you saw Chinatown / thin iced rain falls / you love London / it loves you back / but despite decades / contributing to the city / costs threaten to force you out / Gerrard Street still has that smell / look up to see all the history that begins on London’s first floor / pass the revamped Kowloon Restaurant / recall its quaint back room that served the cheapest tea and buns in London / you see ‘O’Neils’ / once The Wag Club / remember turning up there in the small hours / and learning to love James Brown / then it’s Brewer Street / the Rice Wine Shop / crossing Regent Street you come to the back of the Academy / an Alan Jones poster / gold-plated Kate Moss / but you decide to save your strength for Anselm Keifer / Sugimoto is on at Pace (the American dealers are all here now) / may be worth a diversion / high white space with ornate pillars / 2-meter wide landscape frames / hold succulent B&W photographs / of Natural History dioramas / stuffed ostriches on a contrived prairie / wolves in make-believe snow / deer in a simulated glen / you like Sugimoto but there’s no surprises here / it could be you of course / rushing / tired / a little careless / the press release merely confirms / ‘Sugimoto,’/ ‘Time,’ / ‘Stillness’ etc. / Burlington Arcade upholds its proud bourgeois values / an inside-outside space / you walk in dirty shoes on clean red carpet / windows full of trinkets / silvers and silks / a servile young man kneels to polish the shoes of elders and betters / the revolution hasn’t happened here /
huge Kiefer vitrines occupy the RA’s courtyard / Joshua Reynolds waves his bronze paintbrush vaguely in their direction / behind the misty glass / history is suspended / as if all the past were under water / a posh man in posh overcoat tells his similar son / “… build your life towards your memorial …” / you don’t recall dad saying that? / your eyes sometimes feel weak / as if years of looking at / reading about / making and writing on art in London are eventually taking their toll / the city sucks you in / chews on you / extracts your worth / but you learned / long ago / to love its rough caress / more retro-styled men / the women seem less prone to this epidemic / the Tories are in the saddle again / and everyone’s looking backwards /
standing in front of Innenraum (Interior) 1981 / Keifer’s huge rendition of a grand hall / the space it depicts is reminiscent of the British Museum’s Parthenon galleries / and not unlike the defunct White Cube at Hoxton / majestic proportions / a luminous ceiling / a grid of holy light / but in Keifer’s both the light and the structure seem to have crashed in / making you think of pigeons and crows / nesting and shitting in the temple of high culture / Osiris und Isis (Osiris and Isis) 1985-1987 / again impresses / the most phallic symbol / of Keifer’s male genius / is Ages of the World (2014) / a tower of failed paintings / with grim bronze sunflowers inserted between / Keifer is so powerful / his failures are a further manifestation of his power / one mere mortal male in mustard trews winces in response / crossing his legs / perhaps measuring his own relatively diminutive achievements / there’s lead / there’s books / you know the score / then diamonds / ooh! / and gold / giant woodcut prints end the show / all so ponderously historical / then exit / yes / through the gift shop / you wonder what’s been knocked up for sale / a lead headscarf perhaps? / a shat-upon umbrella? / you only find a desktop organiser / made to look like a Stasi-esque filing cabinet / a ludicrously crass commodity / Keifer has lost traction / (of course it might be only you?) / if so it’s because the world has moved on / along with Boltanski / Richter / W.G. Sebald / and others / he cut a very special aesthetic edge / insisting the late 20th and early 21st centuries confront the recent past / now history is twisting in unexpected ways / teenagers sprout Edwardian beards / while the canteens of London’s art schools pipe 40-year-old hits into 20-year-old students / Goths and Punks have became a living museum / Keifer was always a grand high priest / its good to have his kind / in our ephemeral / virtual world / seriousness is / after all / so moving / perhaps I should see Polke now / across town at Tate Modern / ha! ‘Germany Divided’ / a good name for an article /
One thought on “2. ONLY YOU”
So much of this is familiar, having made the same journey to see Kiefer only 3 or so weeks ago and doubly so as I used to occupy one of the painting studios in Archer St as a student and saw the revamp to a PR company office. No trace of old Greek or Italian sandwich shops with coffee, artificially pumped up to die for.
“the light and the structure seem to have crashed in / making you think of pigeons and crows / nesting and shitting in the temple of high culture” could also have described the Royal Academy building itself.
Surprised that you used Kiefer as a subject, in a number of ways. His images are mythic, impactful and not as I have assumed with you explored for their surface or ambivalence in substance and in relationship. They are explicit images with symbolic value, made to show the scars of their ritual role in some mystical rite. I take their impact as images head on for what they are, always checking myself for being seduced by purely painterly qualities for themselves and yes giving in to it which he allows you to do. You I suspect would have resisted this wholly and utterly as Kiefer does with his love of the discarded and careless surface and yet I also sense you might have enjoyed the ambivalent religiosity, stuck between heaven and earth between painted and romantic images whilst looking for the austere and adherence to consistent principle. But this is not how children play and there is much of the child about him.
His early 70s work could have been easily passed over as unremarkable and indeed rosy watercolours with figures in sketchbooks that themselves become fetishised 3 dimensional stacks, small then larger. There is a simple love for painting and drawing that squeaks out of a presentation forced into an installation pointing to something else. This is biography magnified to historical comment, but its the person who draws me most. How would we have seen him had he have been born in Ireland rather than the historical backdrop to the 20thC which was the Germany divided by the wall.
the early beginnings of powerful objects loaded with power, the burnt book, testament to self denial as much as incidents of history. It is a template for the cosmological infinite space of the later works where the images are with no little drama stretched across some vast space. Are they promoted or demeaned by this treatment? On the whole they are not. The field of burnt sunflowers is memorable for many reasons but I do not know why exactly and neither do I need to know as being definite or ultimately defined is to misunderstand a child simply and deeply at play.