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REVIEW: "Transition from Cool to Warm" at Gagosian Gallery

German artist Anselm Kiefer whose work has been exhibited throughout the world over the last five decades, returns to New York with the exhibition “Transition from Cool to Warm” at the Gagosian in Chelsea. Over the years, Kiefer’s work has straddled the line of political activism and mythic storytelling. For a long time he specifically explored the German myths and preoccupations that had been associated with Nazism, now in this new work, he has gone broader to include more cultures and myths in his work. This series examine’s the nuances of human life, its destruction, and its resurrection. In Kiefer’s own words, “What interests me is the transformation, not the monument. I don’t construct ruins, but I feel ruins are moments when things show themselves. A ruin is not a catastrophe. It is the moment when things can start again.” It makes sense then, that the works range from watercolors, paintings, and artist’s books. He is an artist that has always engaged with the procedure and materiality of painting not necessarily subject matter. His method of choice, thick impasto, smother the larger paintings with gobs of oil paints, layering the canvas to give it a 3-Dimensional quality. It’s not just paint, that juts out from the surface of the works, but natural elements like sticks, metals, and a large book. Through his technique and materials, the paintings come at you in vibrant movement and seem to be a story of creation and destruction. Throughout the gallery’s wall spaces and in the paintings and watercolors themselves are words – coming from sources like the Old and New Testaments and the poetry of Paul Celan.

As broadly as Kiefer explores his materials and process, he returns consistently back to landscapes, the human form, and flora and fauna. Erotica plays heavily into this work, and as you move through the space becomes more and more centric to his theme. The first few rooms of large scale paintings and watercolors expand on the ideas of the natural world and its destruction and recreation. Once you turn the corner from the first gallery space into the center room, you enter a room of artists’s books installed in glass vitrines. The pages, painted with gesso that mimics marble offer the viewer erotically charged female nudes and faces in soft blues, reds, and natural tones. The opened books, with paintings on each page and glass vitrines offer the viewer alternative viewing perspectives depending on where you stand. I could not help but wonder the intentionality of how the books were opened and put on display. One could spend hours in this room alone, exploring the meditative and seductive works.

In the last large gallery space, nature and portraits of women in moments of ecstasy collide in watercolors and further artists books. The room is aptly titled “extases feminines” or “feminine ecstasies.” The floral elements in the works add a romanticism to the somewhat violently exuberant expressions on the faces. The gallery space itself is modern, momentous and large, and Kiefer’s works bring a meditative grounding back to the natural and the divine through his varied works.

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