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Another Kiefer Controversy?

Another Kiefer Controversy?

The Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea will open its Anselm Kiefer exhibit, "Next Year in Jerusalem," this week.

I can’t wait.

Kiefer has been courted controversy ever since he established himself in the ’60s, taking pictures of himself doing the Nazi salute. As a non-Jewish German born the year the war ended, in 1945, there was always a layer of suspicion added to any explanation he gave. But he always gave one, maybe frustratingly plain to some, but never coy.

The Nazi salutes were his attempt to make Germans directly confront their past, to stare their shame in its face. But of course many took it as a pose, a Warholian cry for attention. They dismissed his work as a naive act of rebellion by a imbecilic boy who could not even begin to know the suffering he evoked.

With his new Gagosian show, I hope we have that debate again. He is not only revisiting those iconic photographs, blowing them up and turning them into scrims, which he places over new installation pieces. He’s also taking a step further, picking up Jewish themes. The title of the show "Next Year in Jerusalem" is an explicity reference to the Passover Seder, and like much his work in the ’80s and ’90s, he furrows deep into Jewish tradition.

According to the Web site, he engages themes from kabblah, and Christian mysticism too, that explore "the fragile endurance of the sacred and the spiritual amid the ongoing destruction of the world."

As an aside, I saw his enormous painting "Bohemia Lies By the Sea" (1996), which is on display at The Met. I not seen many of Kiefer’s works in person before, and though I sympathized with his motives, I was not always certain his means were well-chosen. But "Bohemia Lies By the Sea" (1996) got me thinking otherwise. It was magnificent.

He pours on thick and gnarled layers of coagulated paints then carves out a darkly pocked images that murkily depict the Bavarian countryside. It looks like a darker, madder, more modern Van Gogh. The wall text explains that title comes from a poem by Ingebord Bachmann, and is meant to capture the painting’s sense of entrapment. The Bavarian landscape is his metaphor for Germany’s relationship to its past. It is landlocked. It dreams of being free, but alas, there is no sea.

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