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Revisiting Bermondsey Street to see Kiefer - by Robin Mason

  • Revisiting Bermondsey Street to see Kiefer - by Robin Mason

    We woke up this morning and decided to go to Bermondsey Street to see the Anselm Kiefer show at White Cube (Mistero Delle Catterali). We rented a studio in Bermondsey Street back in the late 1980's. Then the area was full of semi derelict warehouses where antique dealers sold their wares on Fridays and Saturdays. The rest of the week it was just us, the bakery (which is still there) and the factory that made chocolate buttons, covered in hundreds and thousands. The factory is now the classy Delfina Restaurant. So much has changed there, the luxury of Bermondsey Street can be summed up in the fact that the local pub is now a Michelin recommended eating place, where every table was pre booked in advance, for breakfast. 


    The new White Cube space is huge, I’m not sure I like the space, architecturally it reminds me of the new Royal College of Art painting studios, it’s a bit cold and austere, a glimpse of the outside world or sky here or there would ease the severity (The Kroller Muller in Holland understands the need for breath when viewing art). But building aside, I was stunned to think back and forth between the 80's and now, having to pinch myself to realise I was experiencing this extraordinary artists work a stones throw distance from our old studio. In this white cube space, Kiefer has dragged back to the area the wondrous feeling of Post Industrial Revolution dereliction, with all its nostalgic yearnings and a suggested smell, feel and touch of mould to a place that fell into decay and is now so smart that art worth hundreds of millions of pounds litters its walls. I can't help but have a feeling of awe in the presence of Kiefer’s work, as it satisfies a need for nostalgia that I struggle with constantly. 


    The new works are no longer accepting decay as part of their fugitive nature, gone are the dried plants and sunflowers that literally fell to pieces as they were shown, replaced by lead or bronze casts of the flora. There is the feeling that Kiefer is no longer comfortable with ongoing degeneration, but as he states in the White Cube flyer on this show, he is now controlling the amount of oxidation and decay. These works will outlive us. I should feel overwhelmed as an artist, because of the scale of his output and the industrial scale of the art business surrounding it. But I feel inspired to continue making work, no matter how minor in key compared to this monumentality, inspired by the fact that there is someone out there who believes it is magic when paint communicates nostalgia, where the illusionist brings to me spaces I remember (or think I do). 


    It is 30 years since I saw Kiefer’s work for the first time at the Whitechapel Gallery, large black and white photographs with straw glued to the surfaces. I was intrigued by his work then and continue to be, but I had no idea I was looking at the start of a multi million pound brand. His work is operatic in its scale and subject, but for me between the sheets of lead, the swathes of paint and the dynamic use of perspective, there is a sensitivity of touch and a consideration of placing that is poetic and gentle. I can't afford a studio in Bermondsey Street any more, but I'm glad we made the decision to revisit it this morning to see the show. I think Kiefer would have understood the old warehouses that were there, he would probably have found a few bits and bobs to dip in paint or acid to hang against one of his mammoth works. Like the petrifying objects hanging from lengths of wire on Mother Shipton’s Well, his works trigger reverie, not for everyone, making me one of the lucky ones.

    The show runs at White Cube, Bermondsey Street until 26 February 2012