Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom
3 November - 12 December 2000
Private view: Thursday 2 November 6-8 pm
Haunch of Venison Yard, Brook Street W1
The German artist Anselm Kiefer's powerful new paintings, on exhibition from November 2nd at Anthony d'Offay's as yet still unrestored space at Haunch of Venison Yard, have a Chinese theme. Some include landscapes photographed during a 1993 journey across China, showing that although these are paintings from the past year the subject has been brewing in Kiefer's work for some time.
Most of the pictures contain images of Mao Zedong and many carry the inscription "Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom", which has become the title for the show and the book by the American writer and critic Thomas McEvilley which accompanies it. Kiefer is making free with Mao's 1957 statement "Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend the policy of promoting the progress of art and sciences and the flourishing culture in our land". These words, taken at face value by many of his audience, turned what had seemed to be a life-giving beneficence into a sentence of death, as dissenting individuals revealed themselves to the heavy hand of the socialist revolution.
Such contradictions or opposing forces are the key to Kiefer's work. In earlier pictures he used flowers which have the properties of both medicine and poison. These paintings are full of bright, blossoming flowers, but they also have dead flowers stuck into their painted surfaces. They are both light and sombre at the same time. Despite the flowers, the landscapes are barren, wintry and leaden. The weight of the iron fist of government threatens inevitably to fall upon the innocence of the short-lived randomly sprouting plants.
Kiefer based his image of the socialist leader on one of the plaster statues of the period in which Mao stretches forth his hand in a god-like iconic pose as if attempting the control of nature in its entirety. Inevitably we get a flashback to Kiefer's early series Occupations, where, as if trying on the mantle of the icon for size, to get an understanding of the reality of his subject, he was photographed in military uniform, raising his arm in the Nazi salute. It was the start of his career as an artist in which he has meditated again and again upon the dangers that lie hidden in the human psyche, on the nature of the relationship of the individual to society and the responsibility that the individuals who compose society have to bear when they create icons to represent them.
Because of the nature of their calling and their need to explore the nature of reality, artists have to be concerned with icons. Their meaning in the context of the past century has produced some of the greatest art of that time - by Johns, Beuys and Warhol, among others. The subject of these pictures is also history and especially history's ability to come round again. This time it is not Kiefer's own history which is under discussion, but as Thomas McEvilley points out, Mao Zedong and Adolf Hitler were born within four years of each other and were part of the same revolutionary cycle which shaped the past century and could so easily be repeated in the years to come. Kiefer sees the beauty and the horror, he sees the two sides of humanity. His view is not dispassionate, but neither is it apocalyptic or hysterical.
Anselm Kiefer's work was most recently seen in London in the exhibition Encounters: New Art from Old at the National Gallery. He is currently showing a series of paintings (specifically made for the site) at Salpetrière in Paris.
Opening hours: Monday - Friday 11am - 5pm; Saturday 10am - 1pm
For further information, images, and interviews with the artist, please contact Helen Scott Lidgett or Jessica Ray at Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications Limited on:
Helen Scott Lidgett direct line: 020 7612 1560
Jessica Ray direct line: 020 7612 1563
Fax: 020 7612 1563