The exhibition really begins before you even enter the RA, with “Velimir Khlebnikov: Fates of Nations: The New Theory of War” on display in the courtyard. It consists of two large glass vitrines containing model submarines. It’s a melancholy, imposing work, inspired by the Russian Futurist figure Khlebnikov, who came to the somewhat bizarre conclusion that a major sea battle took place every 317 years (or multiples thereof).
Inside, another of Kiefer’s sculptures is on display before you reach the exhibition: “Language of the Birds” (2013) is made up of books, folder chairs and a pair of wings. It looks like it is about to take off. The sculptures (including “Ages of the World” in the exhibition itself) were in fact my favourite thing about the exhibition: they have an impressive looming quality about them.
The rest of the work I wasn’t so sure about. I admired Kiefer’s attempt to confront the reality of Germany’s history; his early work involved painting himself wearing his father’s German army uniform in a series ironically entitled “Heroic symbols”. He aimed to reclaim the idea of the artist from the Nazis, a concept which had been tainted by the emphasis on Hitler as an artist. I also liked a painting which re-enacted a Nazi naval attack inside a standard-issue tin bath, a commentary of the ludicrousness of the war.
Other works included watercolours, books, three-dimensional pictures and installations, using materials as diverse as greenery, lead, diamonds and wood. Paintings made use of myths, symbols, landscapes and architecture. The exhibition was varied in subject, but there was a recognisable style running through all of Kiefer’s work.
Overall I don’t think that this art is really for me, however I feel I learned something from it – I certainly wouldn’t call it a wasted experience.