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On art: Thank You Mr. Kiefer

Last weekend, my core homies and I paid a visit to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Though one of our gang was drawn by the German Expressionist exhibit, I felt compelled to make a beeline straight to Anselm Kiefer’s Shevirat Hekelim, Breaking of the Vessels. I had never seen Kiefer’s work in person before and knew only the littlest bit about his previous exhibitions.

Now comes the hard part… how do I convey, in words, the feeling of standing in that space? How can I begin to speak about art?

The catch is that the speechless feeling is what I didn’t know I wanted to get out of the experience. With dance performances, of which I see a whole lot, there is always something to say. Because of my knowledge of the form, I almost never feel that I am rendered without comment. With paintings, especially enormous, overwhelming ones like the ones in Kiefer’s show; it is much harder for me to find words to remark with. And yet, I have to say something about this experience.

A teacher and brilliant choreographer I encountered last summer said that the most wonderful thing we can hope for with our art is to put the audience or spectator into a state where they want to speak about the piece but have no words. They then are forced to find new ways of talking, new combinations of phrases, new sentence structures.

Until that day, I didn’t fully understand the concept.

I stood there, in the basement of the new wing of the museum, in a huge, white, air-conditioned, cavernous room and was swept off of my feet. The vertigo that took hold of me was a completely new sensation. The depth of those paintings, the colors, the strange familiarity of the images lifted me out of my regular Tel Aviv afternoon into a state of disoriented wonderment.

This is my public thank you note to Mr. Kiefer. I am happy to live in a world with your work.

Anselm Kiefer’s exhibit is open at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art through April 2012. For more information, visit www.tamuseum.com.

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    1. sh

      The same thing happened to me when I more or less fell into an exhibition of his works in Europe last year without knowing anything about him.
      Most gratifying to read what your brilliant teacher and choreographer said about the state where you want to speak about a piece but have no words – often happens to me with paintings. Anyway, thanks, Ori, this is a marvelous reason to go visit the new wing of the museum. I didn’t realize he was showing there. Thanks also for the video; it contained some of the immense works that so knocked me out last year.

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    2. It’s reality without the smooth construction of our brain. Great to see him here!

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    3. Here’s hoping for more from Ori too….
      …take us away from words.

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    4. sh

      It occurred to me a couple of days back while thinking about speechlessness and Anselm Kiefer’s works (important subject matter for Israelis), that a brilliant wordsmith called W G Sebald, whom I had read before encountering Kiefer, inhabited the same kind of universe. Googling both names together today I saw that art critic Tim Adams spotted that years ago when discussing a different exhibition. This saves you from any amateurish attempt on my part to explain it.
      A few snatches:
      “… I have never been able to look at his paintings without the late German writer W G Sebald coming to mind. Kiefer and Sebald share not just a biography – Sebald was born the year before the painter, in Bavaria – but also a state of mind, a conscience. When Sebald’s writing first came to prominence in the 1990s he was described as a psychogeographer; he witnessed in the landscape and its memories the co-ordinates of his own anxieties and dread. The term would apply equally to Kiefer’s work. The terrains he depicts … are both resolutely external and historical in their context but are also maps of his own state of mind….
      … Like Sebald, who made his name with Austerlitz, his extraordinary meditation on European destruction, Kiefer has been most often drawn to the weeded-over sites of ancient horrors….
      … If the world is divided into those who construct and those who destroy – bridge-builders and bomb-makers – then Kiefer has created for himself a kind of uncharted territory between the two, desolate but fecund, … but which is in fact a no-man’s-land of his own making. …”

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    5. amaeroff

      Great Piece! As that “brilliant choreographer” suggested, engaging.

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