October 15, 2010

Anselm Keifer's factory





In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw reports that "Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow," an often wordless  essay-documentary about lugubrious German artist Anselm Kiefer and his heavy art practice, is a worthwhile film that attempts to respond to his work rather than simply document it. "Filmmaker Sophie Fiennes begins by roaming through the tunnels and corridors of his studio-network: huge, disorienting shapes and forms loom, composed of earth or mud. There are giant, organic pillars, like stalagmites or termite mounds, a visual or conceptual rhyme to the towers built outside. We pass from these claustrophobic, disturbing spaces into more conventional, white-walled studios, where the artist is preparing a giant canvas depicting a forest. Fiennes's emphases are almost abstract: colour, light, texture, form – and to these, she adds sound, using the music of Jörg Widmann and György Ligeti. It is 17 minutes before the first person is seen on screen: one of Kiefer's assistants.

"Like a factory or foundry, Anselm's studio is a place where real, hard work is going on: smelting, sawing and hammering. This is not an artist who noodles over his Mac, wittily tweaking images with state-of-the-art software. His artistry looks as if it could be taking place centuries ago, and yet it feels very modern. The artist is immersed in his vocation and Fiennes's docu-essay immerses us in it, too. It is a film that requires a calm and concerted investment of attention, and a kind of cultivated mental quiet. It is a valuable film that aspires to create an artistic response to its subject matter."

In The Independent, Anthony Quinn writes that "there's a certain rough beauty in liquid lead and broken porcelain, but I couldn't see the point of the tottering concrete towers Keifer places on the quiet pastoral scene outside – as if Europe's landscape lacks for gross industrial defacing. Abandoned pillboxes? A comment on Speer's grandiloquent architecture for the Thousand-Year Reich? Who knows – but I found myself hoping the artist would not leave the site uglier than he found it."

At The Hollywood Reporter, Maggie Lee concludes that the film, which she found long and dull, is aimed at a small elite of art connoisseurs and cineastes. "During an interview in Sophie Fiennes' documentary on German artist Anselm Kiefer, Kiefer pontificates on Heidegger and asserts that 'boredom is the basis of existence.' Viewers who don't care for contemporary art and know nothing about philosophy will be plunged into this said 'basis of existence' for most of its trying 105 minutes as Fiennes records Kiefer making his elemental painting installations in the most straightforward of slow pans, long tracking or still shots, with no narration."

The film opens in the UK today. So far no word on screening dates in the US.

3 comments:

I am dying to see this movie, and it's actually something that my husband would like as well. a movie for a painter (me) and a philosopher (him)-- who has written a lot about Heidegger.
It is possible the film is boring, or perhaps the reviewer is not comfortable with existential anxiety and other feelings that might be aroused by Kiefer's work. Personally, I am a fan.

This film sounds fantastic. Kiefer's ability to merge "hard work" with sharp, poetic, and evocative ideas has always been appealing to me. Plus, who doesn't like to fantasize about having an entire factory for a studio!?

Can't wait to see the film. His show in Antwerp was excellent: http://ponyhoffreshpaint.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/all-about-anselm/