Like discovering a lost civilisation, as explorers enter the doorway above which is written, “Walhalla” they discover a lost world, with walls lined in lead and everything grey with the age of time , where soft fabrics have become petrified and metal has twisted and rusted with age. While the reference is to the mythical place where the great Norse warriors who had died in battle were lain to rest, the rows of institutional beds are reminiscent of old hospital wards, military barracks or a camp hospital in which people stayed fleetingly, their names chalked at the ends of their beds, but have long gone, leaving an eerie, empty and dimly-lit place, reinforced by a large photograph at the end of the hall of a man going out into the cold wintery landscape.
Moving forward, the explorers discover other chambers including an old archive with petrified books and papers, old printing presses and streams of old photographic negatives pouring onto the floor. In another room an old rusty metal staircase rises to heaven, covered in clothes that have been left behind, with more streams of old photographic negatives, showing pictures of architectural towers, empty and bleak, linking to huge paintings of towers being set alight and destroyed which are hung in other chambers, along with cases containing more petrified remains including sunflowers, a wheelchair, old metal beds, remains of buildings and electrical systems, soiled clothes and trees.
The White Cube in Bermondsey London has been transformed for Anselm Kiefer’s exhibition “Walhalla”, with works dating from 1999 to 2016 through which Kiefer intersperses historic references such as the Norse legends with their Wagnerian connections into works which deals simultaneously with life and death and with creation and destruction.
4000 miles away in Fort Lauderdale, the NSU Art Museum has opened another exhibition of Kiefer’s work which focusses on his early career and his exploration of what had happened in his native Germany during the Second World War, exploring the feeling of collective guilt and the historical, psychological, and mythological conditions that contributed to the rise of Adolph Hitler and the German people’s embrace of his nationalist agenda, with references to Northern European mythology, Richard Wagner’s operas, German philosophy and culture and Romantic landscape painting.
The exhibition is drawn from the Hall and Hall Art Foundation which has a major collection of Kiefer’s work at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition starts and ends with more of the vitrines with petrified remains that are seen in London and shows many epic and huge works that fill the galleries, contrasting with his small scale books also on show.
There is a link between the two exhibitions through the German mythological maiden Brunhilde, whose name appears in both London and Fort Lauderdale.
Unfortunately, unlike the White Cube, the NSU Art Museum does not allow photography and the catalogue is not yet available.
(NSU photographs are copyright).