Critics’ Picks

Anselm Kiefer, The Voyage of the Nibelungen to Etzel, 1980–81, book of twenty-two double-page spreads of gelatin silver prints with gouache, oil, and graphite mounted on cardboard, 23 1/16 x 16 5/16 x 3 1/4" (when closed).

Anselm Kiefer, The Voyage of the Nibelungen to Etzel, 1980–81, book of twenty-two double-page spreads of gelatin silver prints with gouache, oil, and graphite mounted on cardboard, 23 1/16 x 16 5/16 x 3 1/4" (when closed).

St. Louis

“The Immediate Touch: German, Austrian, and Swiss Drawings from Saint Louis Collections, 1946–2007”

Saint Louis Art Museum
One Fine Arts Drive Forest Park
June 29–September 7, 2008

Beginning with the Second World War’s end, “The Immediate Touch” sets out to challenge national boundaries by posing a tenuous linguistic unification of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. But the distinctly different realities of the war and its aftermath led to divergent visual expression. Though attempting to balance the precedence given to German postwar art production, the exhibition works against itself by largely arranging artists by national origin and therefore misses the opportunity to create dialogues through unexpected juxtapositions.

The show’s strongest moments are still German. In the chalked scrawls of Urbis II, 1972, one feels the immediacy of a Joseph Beuys lecture-performance delivered before a retro-style blackboard that documents his own brand of sociopolitical activism. The materiality of Anselm Kiefer’s The Voyage of the Niebelungen to Etzel, 1980–81, represents drawing in its more expanded realm, where, in several spreads, photographs of the artist’s studio form the background for layers of graphite and paint to suggest the epic’s watery Danube setting. Despite the weight of history, lighter moments also surface. In 1986, Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen mocked Kiefer’s superstar status in It Isn’t Your Fault, a book containing oatmeal-flaked pages, some coated in salmon-colored paint, and a single snapshot of a prefame Kiefer. Sigmar Polke’s “ . . . . . Higher Beings Ordain” series, 1968, satirizes a '60s German middle-class penchant for palm-tree decor in black-and-white photographs of everyday objects, such as buttons, arranged in the shape of a tree. Clean-lined sketches on notebook paper suggest clear thinking behind Polke’s operations and are among the more successful instances of insight into an artist’s practice through drawing, as they seem to deepen the experience of the work’s final manifestation.