A Gross Mishandling of the Female Nude, From Cool to Warm, Anselm Kiefer at Gagosian New York

June 10th, 2017  |  Published in May/June 2017

During my last Saturday in New York I was fortunate to spend the day with perhaps my oldest friend Tania whom I have known for fourteen years. She is true-blue, perhaps one of the better people I’ve been fortunate to know in my life. I slept on an air mattress in her living room while I was in the city and on that Saturday we had a grand day out. After stopping at Taymour Grahne in Tribeca we decided to head to Chelsea and follow our noses from gallery to gallery. There are so many there, and yet nothing much of great resonance. Ray Pettibon’s Th’ Explosiyv Shoyrt at David Zwirner was perhaps the best of what we saw in Chelsea that day. There was a small exhibition of Alex Katz’s subway drawings that I very much enjoyed as well. The Allison Zuckerman exhibition at Kravets Wehby was also a super fun experience.

As the day waned and feelings of overstimulation overwhelmed we continued walking. At some point the name Anselm Kiefer caught my eye and I nudged Tania and grunted to signify that we go inside.

There is a good deal of Kiefer painting out there in the world that I enjoy. He makes impressive art. He’s a living modernist. His painting at the Blanton Museum in Austin is one of my favorites to stand in front of. It is a consuming thing that relates the star dusted black ocean of outer space. There are Kiefer’s that I enjoy and yet this exhibition, From Warm to Cool, left me wanting to take a shower or drink alcohol. I felt befuddled by the work and I desired cleansing. I do not think that I am alone in this confusion.

Walking through the gargantuan space that is the fabled Gagosian Gallery, we were greeted by a series of rather somber landscapes that seemed to conjure the melancholy of winter and then also the hope that melts them. These rather tame landscapes, which were nice, gave way to works more typically massive of Kiefer’s oeuvre.

Increasingly these works began to represent a feminine effect. There was large lichen colored canvas rife with texture. At its center about ¾ high was an open book. This gave way to another painting that seemed to be a giant smear of menstruation. Both paintings were very large, possibly 15’ or more.

Walking further into the exhibition we entered a room full of turines. The turines were displaying large, presumably, handmade artist books. The pages of these books were smeared with gesso pricked with pigment to lend the effect of marbling. On the pages of these books were splayed female nudes. The most grotesque was painted with the image of a woman bent over backwards, her chin suggesting a clitoris and her arms folding back to resemble labia.

Inasmuch as Keifer is sort of the career controversial, I thought that this exhibition was out of touch. Gagosian’s website frames the exhibition with a statement that cites eroticism as the subject of the work. All I saw was a hungry objectification of the female figure in the realm of the sublime as it has most always originated from toxic masculinity and manifest destiny. Inasmuch as there were some of the most incredible surface treatments and big sweeping gestures I have ever seen, it all came up short because Kiefer’s, and Gagosian’s for that matter, presentation couldn’t have been more terribly timed. Kiefer seeks transcendence through female anatomy in our present moment where we’ve elected a pussy grabber for our president. It was a big dramatic gesture of objectification. I know that Kiefer has a penchant for the dramatic and has built a career around controversial subject matter but this felt terribly inappropriate.

–Jack Wood

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