On a brief trip to Paris, I managed to squeeze in two art exhibitions, and it was really worth it.
The first was at the Musée Rodin, where the German artist Anselm Kiefer was asked to produce art to mark the centenary of the death of Auguste Rodin. The idea was to invite the viewer to consider the aesthetic concerns shared by the two artists.
Anselm Kiefer was given the freedom to create a series of works incorporating debris that Rodin produced while making his sculptures, such as offcuts and discarded molds.To echo this, elsewhere in the museum displays were altered to present previously unseen plaster works by Rodin.
The Musée Rodin is housed in a 1730 building, the Hôtel Biron, which was initially a private residence, before being rented by the Society of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus. It was then taken over by the state and left vacant for years. In the early 20th century rooms were rented out for studios to artists such as Jean Cocteau, Isadora Duncan and Rainer Maria Rilke, amongst others. Henri Matisse rented space for his school of art, and then Rodin – after Rilke, who later became his secretary, let him know about the building – joined the group, and gradually took over the whole building, where he worked for years, until his death.
The building and gardens are beautiful and perfectly maintained. The main part of Kiefer’s work is presented in a room just inside the outer wall, which was built as a chapel for the needs of of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus Society.
Anselm Kiefer was born in 1945 and studied with Joseph Beuys and Peter Dreher during the 1970s. In his work, he unflinchingly confronts his culture’s dark past, and adresses controversial historical issues.
Kiefer is a romantic, with a huge visual vocabulary. He uses architecture, amongst other images, to convey the weight of history. The three paintings in the room are diptychs, large canvases whose surface is multi-layered and textured. Thick layers of gesso and paint have been mixed with other substances such as glass and clay to give them texture. Kiefer then scratches and carves into the surface to reveal the layers beneath. In these particular paintings, molten lead has been splattered on top, and parts of it have been bent and curled backwards to add a third dimension.
The paintings are difficult to describe and photographs can never do them justice (even better ones than mine!). They have to be experienced – and, without the slightest exaggeration, I can say they are breathtaking.
Kiefer also makes installations, in this case using dried sunflowers and branches, sunflower seeds coated in gold leaf, earth, stones and the aforementioned clay debris.
In my opinion, he is one of the greatest artists of our time, due to his enormous scope and erudition, his use of a huge variety of materials and his production of monumental works. I might not love everything he does – which I think is a good thing – but I never cease to be surprised and impressed every time I encounter another of his works.
I finished up by walking in the gardens to visit old favorites, such as The Thinker.
P. S. I still need to write up the second exhibition I saw, on African Art at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, so stay tuned!