Paul Celan: wir schöpften die Finsternis leer, wir fanden das wort, das den Sommer heraufkam: Blume
(We scooped the darkness empty, we found the word that ascended summer: flower), 2012
Oil, emulsion, acrylic, on photograph on canvas
110 1/4 x 149 5/8 inches (280 x 380 cm )
Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery
Anselm Kiefer: Morganthau Plan, closes on June 8th at Gagosian Gallery, 522 West 21st Street. Equally depressing and exhilarating in its magnitude (what we have come to expect from Kiefer), this exhibition introduces a new dimension in this German artist's thinking: "Beauty requires a counterpart. And in thinking about this flaw, the other flaw occurred to me as well: the Morgenthau Plan. For it too ignored the complexity of things." Conceived by the United States Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau in 1944, the so-called "Morganthau Plan" proposed that the transform most of Germany into an agricultural society might stymie industrial development, which might lead to another military build up and war. The plan was never executed.
Kiefer imagines the enthralling beauty of flowers counterbalanced by the appearance of decay or blight. The press release explains:
Revisiting a process used earlier in his career, Kiefer paints directly onto color photographs of fields in bloom that he took near his property in southern France, then printed to fit canvases of various sizes. Der Morgenthau Plan depicts an area overgrown with flowers, rendered in thick impasto that completely obscures the original photograph. From top to bottom, the vast canvas dramatically transitions from light to dark, ending in a carpet of drab, black and green mulch. Morgenthau Plan: Laßt tausend Blumen Blühen / Let a thousand flowers bloom conflates the travesty of the German post-war plan with Mao Zedong’s shrewd co-optation of the idealistic classical Chinese maxim, “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend,” designed to expose and flush out anti-Communist dissidents. Kiefer reflects on the misappropriation of this passage for autocratic purposes: amid pastel blossoms, black petals spring up above the rest into a muddled ochre landscape.
I am fascinated with Kiefer's questioning of beauty in the service of art: can something be too beautiful to be meaningful? Do we need ugliness or darkness to feel a sense of the profound or serious? This is a question I hope to pursue in the future.
For now, please join me on Thursday, June 6th at 1 pm at Anselm Kiefer: Morganthau Plan for a conversational tour with the New York Arts Exchange group. And please be ready activate those brain-cells as we work hard to understand works of art.
We will also visit the Jeff Koons show at Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, to cheer ourselves up after a heavy dose of Kiefer's sturm-und-drang.
Please confirm your reservation for June 6th at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am off to Jackson's Mississippi Museum of Art to lecture on French Impressionism!
Auf wiedersehen/Au revoir,
Beth New York
aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange