I took the photographs above on the way in to the Royal Academy. They show one of two installations in the courtyard dedicated to the Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov, who developed an esoteric theory on the cyclical nature of naval warfare (a few years ago Kiefer devoted a whole exhibition of sea paintings at the White Cube to Khlebnikov). It would be impossible to do justice to everything I saw inside the exhibition - there is far too much to write about even if I just stick to landscape-related work: an early watercolour of a bleak winter landscape with a severed head in the sky dripping blood onto the snow, a huge wall-sized vitrine containing a painted forest with real roses and brambles (owned by the sister of Alain de Botton), a nightscape with real diamonds set into the paint that reminded me of what I wrote here only two days ago about mountains and stars... I will quote instead two more critics, writing about artworks made nearly forty years apart, one in a case at the beginning of the exhibition, the other taking up the whole of its last room.
The Burning of the Rural District of Buchen IV (1975): Martin Gayford in RA Magazine explains that this 'documents an imagined conflagration and destruction of the area where he was then living and working. The later pages of the book are burnt, encrusted with charcoal, just as much of Germany itself had been during the war. But fire, while terrifying and annihilating, can also be healing, as Kiefer’s title hints. The German word he used for ‘burning’, ausbrennen, also means ‘cauterisation’. This is how the traditions of Friedrich and Schinkel looked and felt to Kiefer in the aftermath of the Third Reich: burnt out, haunted by overpowering, terrible events.'
The Rhine (1982-2013): Alastair Sooke in The Telegraph writes that 'the show ends on a high, with a beautiful installation called The Rhine, a collage of black-and-white woodcuts on canvas with acrylic and shellac compiled over more than two decades, between 1982 and 2013. The various gigantic canvases of this compelling artwork have been arranged as interlocking screens, so that the viewer enters a maze-like forest with the waters of the Rhine visible in the distance. In between the tree trunks stand the touchstones of Kiefer’s imagination: wartime bunkers, a blaze of fire, the polyhedron from Durer’s famous print Melancholia. It is as if one of Kiefer’s lead books has come to life and is embracing us within its pages.'