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Review: Anselm Kiefer: Walhalla, White Cube Bermondsey 'Extraordinary'

25/11/2016 12:53

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Anselm Kiefer takes my breath away. To be able to express yourself as he does on such a huge scale, with such confidence, without inhibitions, must be a wonderful thing. But it is inspiring too. And exhilarating. And this show - Walhalla at White Cube Bermondsey - brings together new work from the great man that shows an artist at the top of his game.

Nothing about Anselm Kiefer is small-scale. Not his paintings, not his vitrines. Even his large-scale sculptures tower up to the top of the rooms, brushing the ceiling nine metres above you. Not in themes either for these new works examine death, decay, and the enduring fascination with myths and legends of the afterlife.

And this scale and power in the work and themes has manifested itself in an exhibition that feels almost immersive, with the galleries being reconfigured and relit to display these works in a manner that befits them.

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The central hallway is dimly lit, the space filled with rusty decrepit hospital beds, each lined with oxidised lead, and each named after a person significant to Kiefer - whether they be real or fictional. There's so much grey, so much decay, it feels like you're in death's waiting room.

And that heavy emotional weight continues into some of the smaller galleries that shoot off to the side with dusty storage rooms full to the brim with dirt, abandoned drawings and exposed scrolls of film. Similarly with another gallery where the walls are coated in slick-like reflective black plastic, displaying within it another lead-lined bed, yet this one is caught up in a struggle between the freedom offered by its powerful angelic wings, and the huge boulder on it that weighs it down.

But when the light comes, it comes in brightly.

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Kiefer's nine metre tower to the Valkyries stands alone in 9x9x9. The Valkyries are part of Norse mythology - female figures who decided who in battle survived, and who would die - and those that died they would escort to their afterlife in Valhalla. Here, in bright white light, a spiral staircase winds up to the gods, depicting the moment when the Valkyries and Valhalla meet. Discarded robes and film are strewn over the staircase marking the lives that are lost as the stairs are climbed.

And then there are the paintings... So large, each takes up almost an entire wall to itself. And each looks to transport you to another realm. Again and again across these canvases, Kiefer takes a high tower and obliterates it, portraying it exploding and disintegrating into clouds of smoke - some yellow, some blue, some grey - but all set against desolate landscapes.

And filling the floor of these galleries are Kiefer's trademark vitrines: Thor's iron anvil, Kiefer's famous sunflowers reach out from dried, cracked earth, and boulders line up to smash through distressed abandoned rags.

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Simply put, this exhibition overwhelms you. All art looks to make an impact, but Kiefer's works are mind-blowing. Emotional, awesome and utterly extraordinary.

White Cube Bermondsey, to February 12, 2017
Admission free.

All installation images by Victoria Sadler.

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