Anselm Kiefer

Gagosian Gallery (21)

In cold December fragrant chaplets blow,

And heavy harvests nod beneath the snow.

A recognized part of growing older and more decrepit is the unpredictable way one’s memory starts (and stops) working. So, at Anselm Kiefer’s recent show, I was at first surprised to find myself recalling lines I last read years ago, from Alexander Pope’s epic satire The Dunciad, particularly since, when I looked at the poem later, I found it just as I remembered it: that is, unlike Kiefer’s work in almost every way. The Dunciad is dazzlingly light, bright, and swift on its linear feet; the Kiefers are emotionally and literally heavy, encrusted with pigment and weighted with clay and sand. The poem is ironical and razor sharp; the Kiefers are severe and solemn, a joke-free zone. The poem is precise and finely wrought, to a fault; the Kiefers are rough-surfaced, vast, and unevenly drawn. In short, Pope:

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