Boom and Bust

This son of the Fatherland paints in its mother tongue: German. He paints with the homesickness of Friedrich and the vehemence of Nolde. There is something high-minded, overwrought, and romantic about the way Kiefer approaches history. He doesn't simply want to reenact history, he wants to sanctify it. People say his paintings are about the tragedy of war, but really his work is less about the loss of life than about the loss of land. Land is everything to Kiefer. His work is more about Germany than it is about Germans; life is an abstraction. People are too small for him, unless he turns them into icons, which is what he does in the most powerful work in this show: On the Rhine (1982–87). A large woodcut, it pictures the banks of the Rhine looking like the bulrushes of Egypt; a fire burns in the foreground, an eternal flame to the haunted portraits which hover above. Here Kiefer cries for a German pantheon of heroes and scoundrels: military men, poets, philosophers, and a storm trooper.

Kiefer doesn't simply want to reenact history, he wants to sanctify it: On the Rhine (1982–87).
The Metropolitain Museum Of Art, New York Purchase, Reba And Dave Williams Gift, 1995
Kiefer doesn't simply want to reenact history, he wants to sanctify it: On the Rhine (1982–87).

Details

'Anselm Kiefer: Works on Paper, 1969–1993'
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
Through March 21

Kiefer's endless allusions to Germany, the Third Reich, and the war can be creepy, but they feel important. It's impossible to say, but his art about a country cleaved in two may be one of 100,000 reasons for the reunification of Germany in 1989. What's so unfair about this show, in the end, is that anyone unfamiliar with Kiefer's art will walk away with a distorted picture of him. There should be one more wall text posted at the end of the show. It should read, "He's better than this."

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