Terrifying Odyssey Through a Cursed World

The great German artist Anselm Kiefer now has a show up in London at the White Cube Bermondsey gallery, with a review in the Guardian entitled Terrifying Odyssey Through a Cursed World. The review describes some of the works as follows:

Another room is given over to panoramic blasts of brown and black that map sweeping vistas of desolate fields. A road twines through a morass of mud and collaged sticks. Lines of fence poles vanish in the distance. These scenes are drawn in black on a vertiginous scale. Kiefer uses perspective, the Renaissance technique of showing the real world shrinking towards a single vanishing point, to define his landscapes – but the perspective view is a transparency on top of a muddy tumult of colour and texture, with real, 3D stuff stuck over that in turn. From the right distance, the picture of a landscape can be read clearly, like a painting by Van Gogh. Go closer and the picture dissolves in a mess of bulges and muck.

What’s the inspiration for these works (besides the Holocaust)?

These landscapes are entitled Superstrings, a reference to string theory, an influential idea in contemporary physics that seeks to unify quantum mechanics with Einstein’s relativity.

and the show is entitled Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot. The gallery website explains:

White Cube is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by Anselm Kiefer. The exhibition brings together many of the interests that have characterised Kiefer’s work for decades, including mythology, astronomy and history. Located across the entire Bermondsey space, it features a large-scale installation and paintings that draw on the scientific concept known as string theory.

The Guardian review continues:

The main gallery at White Cube Bermondsey is already pretty bleak in its featureless emptiness. Kiefer makes it work for him by heightening the chill, turning the White Cube into a morgue for Europe. Snow-covered landscapes with none of the cheer of Bruegel stretch away to infinity. They are marked with sticks as black as gravestones and nets that catch at nothing. Kiefer’s science reading clearly hasn’t cheered him up. The curvy grids of space-time become horrible wire traps in a devastated nowhere. We might be on the no-man’s land of the Ukraine border. Anyway, this place has got death in its hard black furrows.

Another review, at City A.M. tells us more about Kiefer’s motivations:

This is where we come to string theory – the monolith of Kiefer’s new show. Though he admits that he doesn’t quite understand what string theory is, Kiefer professes complete fascination with the idea that there is a scientific equivalent to the allegorical Gordian Knot – an idea that he picked up after thirty years of subscribing to Spektrum, a German monthly science magazine…

String theory cannot be verified empirically. Rather, it is an attempt to provide an all-encompassing description of the universe. And that, says Kiefer, is just why it is beautiful. “I suppose it’s like painting,” he says. “You cannot prove if a painting is good or bad. That is the point of it – it is descriptive… and there’s something sublime in that.”

From the images available, the work does look quite amazing. Kiefer quite possibly has gotten to the very heart of superstring theory, seeing in it a dark, desolate and blasted mythology which “cannot be verified empirically.”

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4 Responses to Terrifying Odyssey Through a Cursed World

  1. Maik says:

    Well, at least some good came out of string theory (apart from some of the actual mathematics).

  2. Kerberos says:

    sind eine durchlöcherte Schuhsohle,
    geworfen ins graue Nichts,
    Versinkend im Seinscheinschlamm :=(

    (said Nietsche, looking for the missing shoestring)

  3. evermasterx says:


  4. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    The abject language used to describe this work is bordering on parody. I’m thinking less Nietzsche and more of those Sprockets guys in black spandex, deadpanning about the uncaring and eternal void of existence.

    Not that it isn’t beautiful. I find it skillful, striking and unnerving, but come on…

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