Easily one of my favourite exhibitions of the year, Finnegans Wake by German artist Anselm Kiefer was a true assault on the senses, like waking up in someone’s chaotic and fevered dream.
The gallery gives the background to the work:
In ‘Anselm Kiefer – Finnegans Wake’, the artist’s new paintings, sculptures and installations respond to (that is, struggle with and transform) James Joyce’s novel of 1939.
Kiefer first read the Irish writer as a young man, devouring Ulysses (1922) and embarking on a slow and spiralling relationship with the later, more exacting, Finnegans Wake.
It is a book of circles and echoes, more or less overt or secret; its riverine movement begins in the midst of things, and turns back on itself on the final page.
The novel seems to contain all words, all thoughts, all histories. Likewise, the works Kiefer assembles here, bristle with motifs and materials seen elsewhere in his art.
There are fields of rubble and wire, skeletal sunflowers, the DNA helix, the ouroboros snake that eats its own tail. Concrete, copper, glass vitrines, unreadable books made of lead, Joycean inscriptions everywhere.
It is as if language itself has become a material, a sculptural medium.
The exhibition ran at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey until the 20th Aug 2023.