The Parisian building of the Grand Palais, constructed to host the Universal Exhibition of 1900, was transformed in 2007 into a space for contemporary art, bearing the name Monumenta. Each year another artist is invited to create and display an art installation in this building of an impressive scale (13500 m²), covered by a glass cupola, which allows for the natural illumination of the exhibition space. The German artist Anselm Kiefer (b.1945) was the first one to display his art installation, Falling Stars.
History and memory, the cataclysms of the 21st century, and the cycle of birth and decay are the themes which permeate Kiefer’s artworks. He is particularly interested in the discourse of art, and in the limits of representation after the Shoah, but also in the possibility of art to reflect on history, as a visual form of collective memory. His artworks have an eclectic character, appealing to sources as diverse as theology, history, poetry, mythology and the kabbalah, and using mixed media such as clay, ash, lead, straw, often attached to the canvas, a technique inspired by his mentor, Joseph Beuys. The use of these organic materials is, however, evocative of death, or of the dialectic of death and rebirth (Margarete, 1981; Your Golden Hair, Margarete, 1981). Kiefer’s paintings (Lot’s Wife, 1989; Nuremberg, 1982; Ash Flower, 2004) often follow the perspectival tradition, yet in a subversive manner, as they open desolate vistas with horizon lines clotted in lead, or patched with straw, denouncing the sense of displacement and of loss generated by wars.
Falling Stars consists of seven houses made of concrete slabs, and of three towers, and each architectural structure contains Kiefer’s paintings and installations. Two of the houses are dedicated to the poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, whose poetry, often referenced by Kiefer in his paintings, deals with the necessity of recreating a poetic language after World War II, one able to convey the atrocities of war. The title of the exhibition reveals the artist’s fascination with the dialogue between the microcosm and the macrocosm, between the individual and the universe, and the constant negotiation between life and death.
Three monumental sculptures, in the form of ruined towers, constitute a focal point of the exhibition, and contrast the rigid, controlled architecture of the concrete houses. The presence of the ruins under the glass cupola creates a sense of unease, and points at the frail nature of memorials, which aim to reconstruct and preserve uncontainable aspects of the past, by placing them in a safe space, for scrutiny and reflection.
Often perceived as an artist aiming to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, because of his combination of a variety of cultural sources and media, Kiefer’s work is, however, intended as a commentary on the dangers of any attempt to understand life in a totalising way; he thus alludes to the impenetrable, concrete logic of any totalitarian regime. Kiefer exposes this danger, under the magnifying glass of the Grand Palais cupola, juxtaposing the rigid and the frail, the concrete slab and the ruin.
Image 1 – Looking4poetry
Image 2 – Feuilllu
Image 3 –Looking4poetry