A history hour with Anselm Kiefer

Top photo: From the series “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” by Anselm Kiefer.

– No one has the same perception of history, Anselm Kiefer says, sitting in front of the press in White Cube‘s new Hong Kong space, dressed in white pants and a shirt.

The German painter, however, is in town to show us his history perception, with a series of large scale paintings titled “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”. The title is knowingly ironic, and refers to a phrase pronounced by Mao in 1957, which was meant to encourage cultural plurality, but led to the deaths of millions. It is Kiefer’s first time in Hong Kong, but the series was inspired by his travels in China in 1993.

– Mao was a big hero in Germany when I started out as a painter in the 1960s. I was always extremely fascinated by Mao, but had an ambigious feeling about it. I each village I traveled to in China, I saw the same image of him. I wanted to depict the historical and mythological figure, he says.

In the rich paintings one can see the flowers and grass overgrowing Mao, which is placed in the background.

He started to evoke something and then he could not stop it. The seeds are overgrowing, he is overflooded by flowers now, Kiefer laughs.

The title also refers to the blooming landscapes, which were photos from France, stretched out on the canvas and then painted over, so that they no longer show.

– Photos give only one layer. I wanted more, says the painter in his German accent.

Over the past four decades has produced a diverse body of paintings, sculptures and installations, making him one of the most important European artists. Two sculptures are also part of the exhibition: Large old books crushing a bicycle. Kiefer quotes the bicycle as China, but says it can also be a symbol for movement, change, and going from one place to another.

– It is the weight of history. But I think in 200 years the bicycle will come out and function again…

His exhibitions have been staged extensively over the past four decades and his work is included in the world’s most prestigious public and private art collections. The art is made in Kiefer’s enormous 35.000 sq feet studio in Paris, and it is hard work. Literally.

– Painting is like dancing. Your whole body is involved. At first you do the body work, then you look back on it.

I get active only when I have something that moves me. I am not interested in style. I am only working when overwhelmed. The formal language of art is dangerous, it will make you end up with design, he says. 

“Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” opens tonight and runs until the 25th of August.

White Cube Hong Kong, 50 Connaught Road, Central. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm.

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