When I asked Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi what his favorite current shows in New York City were, he directed me to Anselm Kiefer’s show at Gagosian on W21st.
And when Nicky Nodjoumi tells you to go see a show, you go see it.
So go see it, I did.
It was blazing hot walking to West 21st street. My feet beat past innumerable Chelsea galleries as the sun reflected from the sheer glass surfaces of the buildings around me, and I regretted having hot coffee on my subway ride into the city as the sweat beaded on my forehead. The entrance to the gallery was on my right and would have appeared quite innocuously if it weren’t for the voice of Apple Maps telling me that I had arrived at my destination – The space looked like a massive garage or storage unit from the outside, but once I stepped inside, I was transported into a shaded cave of veritable bohemian wonder.
Anselm Kiefer is a German-French artist known for his works which engage in dialogue with the past – particularly with the taboos and controversy surrounding incidents in the recent past, such as the horror of the Holocaust and of Nazi rule. While his pieces do seem to always maintain a sense of Realism hinting at fantasy while tackling such subjects, I think that “From Cool to Warm,” with its Les extases féminines (The Feminine Ecstasies), drives Kiefer farther away from the dialogue of horror and closer to the warmth of Romanticism.
Among the collection, which consists of large canvases and watercolors in various states, is an array of watercolor books – each unique and beautiful, covering a range of subjects (although most still remain within the herbology/naked woman/destroyed metal themes). The watercolors seem fresh, as opposed to dated – a risk one often runs with the medium – and the use of books offers an interesting take on narrative and time: The flowers bloom, but never flourish, as if trapped in the middle of a story; the women are caught as still lifes as they attempt to turn their head. The leaden sculpture-paintings on the walls add to the sense of temporal suspension, as they look as if they might have been ripped from the hull of some airplane ravaged by the wind or be the historical remnants of a detonated missile. In contrast to the watercolors, they are crude and violent, adding the needed zest to the presented selection.
As for the title of the show, Gagosian’s website proudly declares that:
“Transition from Cool to Warm,” refers to a celebrated book of watercolors that he produced from 1974 to 1977, in which cool, blue marine land and seascapes transform into warm female nudes. Kiefer’s fascination for eidetic process, rather than teleological outcome is underscored by the alchemical effects he achieves in these new works—aleatory, and as luminescent as the natural forms they evoke.”
Did you get that? Because I sure didn’t.
After some dictionary-ing and researching, my interpretation might be something like:
“Transition from Cool to Warm,” refers to a book of watercolors that Anselm Kiefer produced in the 70s that was also titled “Transition from Cool to Warm” but which featured many more blue colors and seascapes (think, was Picasso’s “blue period” and is now Picasso’s “rose period”). Kiefer is more concerned with imagining new images in his head rather than with thinking about how he’s going to bring them to life, and we can see that in these new works because they seem like they burst into existence and are as random and lively as naked women and flowers are.
In conclusion, Anselm Kiefer’s 2017 show at Gagosian on W21st is very pretty, and I think a lot of other art critics might hate on that because they’re haters. But if you appreciate beauty, or just like looking at tasteful depictions of unclothed women, or have a few minutes out of your day to go smell the metaphorical (and painted) roses and update your irl Tumblr aesthetic, then this is the show for you!