The whole of White Cube’s capacious spaces have been given to this exhibition, and to excellent effect. The sight of Kiefer’s huge mucky twig and straw infested landscapes leap out of the bright white of the cube and greet you with a forceful enticement to be overwhelmed by their sheer audacity. The pictures, if I may call them that, literally stand out from the surface, inches thick and replete with implements for cutting and chopping, mainly axe heads. Perhaps cutting and chopping is just another way of saying reaping, and since so many of Kiefer’s works on display here resemble stubble fields – perhaps with more than a hint of First World War desolation – the phrase grim reaper does come to mind. Kiefer’s landscapes could be battlefields of the dead and barely buried in their serried ranks all the way into the distance. Some of the twigs added to the scene seem like motifs made for an impromptu cemetery, a cemetery oppressed by huge clouds of dark foreboding which have perhaps erupted from the earth, thrown up by an artillery barrage or some such nefarious cause.
Not very cheerful then. I don’t think anytime soon we’re going to see a ‘blockbuster’ pairing of Kiefer and Hockney. Now that would be a laugh – depth versus shallow, in other words the battle of our times (in which shallow seems to be winning). Bigger Trees at Warter versus Ramanujan Summation 1/12 (which measures approximately 21 feet square). In other words, Kiefer’s work says something, and he takes this task on without falling into the trap of didacticism. If you go too far down the road of telling people what it’s all about, then what could have been suggestive and mysterious becomes merely pretentious.
There are no human forms in these pictures, but they are landscapes moulded by human behaviour, and cannot leave the observer oblivious of something deep and ineffable. They address the spirit, they are spiritual, but this has nothing to do with the adoration of the ineffable. I recall someone saying that whatever God may be called, the name is merely a different signifier ‘for the ineffable.’ In other words, humans feel compelled to put a name to it as if naming something could give rise to understanding it, or at least allowing for the oxymoronic belief that the ineffable has been somehow contained or captured, to be neatly pigeon holed and praised, or more often than not forgotten about.
In placing an axe or a scythe in his pictures Kiefer is either cutting or reaping. The choice, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder although here of course the two things are not mutually exclusive. In their appearance in the 30 vitrines shown in the main corridor of White Cube, the appearance of such implements suggest only cutting. Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot is the latest development of Keifer’s oeuvre, in which he embraces scientific thought (string theory) and ancient challenges (e.g. cutting the Gordian Knot, after a legend of Phrygian Gordium associated with Alexander the Great - Wikipedia). The vitrines, each in huge steel cases are filled with chaotic tangles of wire and tube, coloured in Keifer’s signature limited palette of mucky brown tones. The tangles are so great and impenetrable they need an axe at the very least to cut them, but the axes themselves seem trapped, strangled even in their own Gordian Knots. To see this chaos is like looking inside one of those roadside phone cabinets, although not so colourful. Denuded of most colour, the wires in Kiefer’s vitrines are harder to decode. On some of the cases there are scrawled equations, as if Einstein himself had tried to interpret what’s going on. I have no idea if the equations are genuine, and most observers will surely share my ignorance. It all adds to the unknowing. Let us bow down now and put our hands together in praise of the almighty Kiefer.