Two artistic titans of the art world share the same space. I imagine a violent confrontation where the most incredible pieces would be thrown at the viewers’ face. The mirror created by the Musée Rodin in Paris facing Auguste Rodin and Anselm Kiefer does not disappoint. New art works from Kiefer are on display in the former chapel facing the Hotel Biron, which houses the comprehensive collection by Rodin. This year the art world celebrates the centenary of Rodin’s death, and to mark the occasion, his book Les Cathédrales de France has led to the creation of an entirely new collection of pieces by the emblematic Kiefer.
The rendering is intriguing. If there is a touch of Rodin in Kiefer’s new pieces, oddly the opposite is equally true. Through usual symbols, materials and customary displays, Kiefer welcomes us into his dark world, comprised of history and personal interpretation. Not only the vitrines and large scale paintings inhabit the first room of the chapel. Hidden behind the entrance as if meant to create a surprise effect, a row of shelves is filled with worked moulds. My immediate reaction is to ask myself if these came directly from Kiefer’s home in Barjac, if he made the fragmented body parts and whether he used the imprints he left within the moulds.
The work of Kiefer resonates with elements he already employed, already endured, already lived. This time, the artist has added another dimension as he intends to unveil the intricate relationship he has nurtured with Rodin over the course of the past few years, by appropriating some of the key aspects of the French sculptor’s work. The moulds, imprints, architectural elements and the voluptuousness of the female body shrewdly infiltrate the straw, soil, sunflowers, books and lead.
The towers on the paintings reference cathedrals all over France which were dear to Rodin’s heart, and which he studied for years. The torn, decrepit material hanging from the thick brushstrokes is lead – a new component to the paintings. By adding the heavy, dripping folds of metal, the artist perhaps reinforces the effect of time on monuments and by using a background which already existed in his collection, he celebrates renewal. The use of lead is seen again and again in the vitrines placed throughout the chapel.
On bright sunny days, the effect of the light coming from the stained-glass cascading through the interior of the see-through displays is magnificent. In the confined space of the corridor, the contrast of colour-darkness works wonderfully and brings Kiefer’s splenetic pieces to life. I am tempted to reflect on what could possibly link these pieces to Rodin’s work. The books laid out on the tables in one large room perhaps give me more of a hint and I suspect that Kiefer has reinterpreted the original works in his own way. The drawings of a woman emanating from an architectural background complement the eroticism vaguely implicit in the angular shapes of a building. Here Kiefer prolongs Rodin’s risqué vision at the time of the cathedrals, but this thought is intuitive and I wished that some of Rodin’s pieces were sitting next to Kiefer’s.
Within the Hotel Biron, Rodin’s sculptures adorn the passage from one room to another. I see in his work the demonstration of control over the medium but also the bold creativity with which he drifted from classical sculpture. One piece which stands out is entitled Absolution, and it is reminiscent of Kiefer’s work. The piece is presented for the first time here and is an assembly of three figures: Torse d’Ugolin, La Terre, Tête de la Martyre all placed under a draped piece of fabric. Innovative and sumptuous all at the same time, this piece reminds me of the fabric used by Kiefer in the Valkyries of Walhalla in Die Walkuren or in the lead dripping in Emanation. The texture is similar in the way it folds, evanescing at the end as if it was attracted to the ground, weighing more than a piece of fabric, transporting the years, emotions and time.
The invisible concordance between the two artists, who are separated by a hundred years, is uncanny. The two titans have done more than battle in the arena of rue de Varennes, they have conversed, exchanged and proven that art is not fixed to one era.
Kiefer Rodin at Musée Rodin Paris (14 March – 22 October 2017)