Sunday, January 28, 2007

Let the earth be opened

"Let the earth be opened and bud forth a saviour and let justice spring up at the same time" Book of Isaiah.

Destruction and creation, upheaval and renewal are themes that haunt Anselm Kiefer's latest exhibition Aperiatur Terra at the White Cube gallery in Mason's Yard, which we saw today.

A rusty brown, thirteen-metre palm tree lay decaying across the length of the gallery's ground floor, overlooked by eighteen paintings of fossilised foliage pressed against coagulated and charred paint, all evoking Christ's journey into Jerusalem prior to his arrest, death and resurrection.

In the lower gallery hung three epic canvases, each depicting a panoramic, visceral landscape dense with apocalyptic matter such as mud and burnt vegetation as well as explosive bursts of redemptive flowers. The poetry of Victor Hugo, the fall of Troy, the Nazi campaign on the Russian front and the prophet Isaiah are referenced throughout the exhibition - words carved into the canvases themselves or scrawled in black upon the white walls. The aroma in the air was heady with oil, organic matter and decay.

Kiefer's last collection of work at the White Cube was snapped up for six million US dollars. I wonder how much this is worth?

At Fortnum and Mason, we lunched on a takeaway sausage roll and smoked salmon and spring onion muffin so deliciously moist and flavourful it made up for the rude and distracted service we received. We crossed Piccadilly to the Royal Academy of Art to view in the courtyard Kiefer's stolid, six-storey twin cement towers entitled Jericho. From the ridges and flaking green paint on some of the blocks that made up each tower, it looked like each block was moulded out of the inside of metal storage containers. The towers proved an imposing and stark contrast against the grandiose and ornate backdrop of the RCA.

We always pop into the grand and imposing Hauser & Wirth gallery down the road from the RCA whenever we're passing through Piccadilly and this time we saw a Caro Niederer exhibition. Entirely unfamiliar with her work, I enjoyed her reworkings of photographic domestic still lifes - views through a bedroom window across a city, of a blue bath tub, of a vase of flowers on a dining table - into full colour silk carpets (handmade in a factory near Shanghai) and paintings.

Later on, we saw the Bound for Glory: America in Colour exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery - a series of photographs of stoic farming communities in post-Depression America. The photographers - Russell Lee, Marion Post Walcott, Jack Delano, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans - were all employed in the late 30s and early 40s by the US Information Department of the Farm Security Administration to galvanise public support for Roosevelt's economic reforms. What is striking about most of the photographs is the use of the newly available Kodachrome film. In those days, people would have viewed such images as black and white prints in magazines or periodicals, but to view them in full-blown and original colour brings the post-Depression era to dynamic life and makes many of these iconic images so starkly contemporary that it's unnerving.

As if all the art we'd consumed today wasn't enough, we also saw the Cherish: Chinese Families in Britain exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in which Chinese families across Britain have been invited to represent themselves in their own unique ways. One of my favourites was an installation that contrasted old black and white family photos with colour ones of the newer generation: a black and white photo of a three year old girl alongside a colour photo of that girl's three year old daughter; a black and white group photo of a family of men in sports gear contrasted with a colour group photo of the next generation of boys splashing around in the sea. Another favourite was a poster of a young couple who had photographed themselves in the style of a Wong Kar-Wai movie. But my favourite style of photo is always those depicting domestic scenes such as a middle aged couple dancing at their wedding, or a mother and daughter fashioning paper lanterns on the counter of their takeaway, or the dishes of stir-fried pak choi or soupy noodles a mother or grandmother had cooked. Photos of everyday life are the reason I love Flickr so much. I wish someone would curate a photographic show of everyday domestic Indian life in Britain.

We ended the day at Bi Won - our regular Korean restaurant in Holborn and my favourite because it's basic Korean comfort food at its best. We started with spicy kimchi, spinach leaves and toasted sesame seeds tossed in sesame oil, and vegetables tossed in batter and flattened into a pancake. Then M had beef marinaded and then barbequed with spring onions on the grill embedded in our table. When they were cooked, he dipped them in chilli sauce and wrapped them in the lettuce leaves provided. I ate my regular cast iron bowl of sizzling minced beef, raw egg, spinach, spring onions, grated carrot and sticky rice all stirred in with a fiery chilli sauce. I can never get enough of this. For dessert I asked for a fruit bowl, thinking perhaps they'd give me a mixture of papaya and lychees, mangos and melons. So I was disappointed, after such great food, when they served me with some slices of apple, orange and cherry tomatoes.

Still, it wasn't enough of a disappointment to ruin a fabulous day.

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