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Anselm Kiefer, Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr 지금 집이 없는 사람은 이제 집을 짓지 않습니다, 2022. 118 laterite and straw bricks, 83 x 288 x 183 cm.

SEOUL.- The exhibition Wer jetzt kein Haus hat (Whoever has no house now) premieres a new series of works by internationally renowned German artist Anselm Kiefer paying homage to the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Inspired by poems by Rilke dedicated to the autumn season, the paintings on view will feature dark, silhouetted trees and falling leaves in rich autumn browns leading into winter greys, displaying both the painter and the poet’s fascination with transience, decay and the passage of time. ‘The poem by Rilke has been in my memory for 60 years. I know many poems by heart, they are in me, and every now and then they emerge.’ The works in the exhibition draw on a group of photographs Anselm Kiefer took in Hyde Park, in London, on a sun-drenched autumn day. ‘I was truly shocked by the explosion of colours,’ he recalls, ‘by the overwhelming natural scenery. The light and the colouring of the autumn leaves were of such intensity that I fetched the camera from the hotel and went to work.’

The new series is inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems, notably ‘Herbsttag’ (‘Autumn Day’, 1902), ‘Herbst’ (‘Autumn’, 1906), and ‘Ende des Herbstes’ (‘The End of Autumn’, 1920). A pioneer of literary modernism, Rilke (1875–1926) is known for his intensely lyrical style, which is anchored in his deeply sensitive observations and impressions of the world, and imbued with personal symbolism. ‘Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore’, reads the first line of the final stanza of his poem ‘Autumn Day’, which Anselm Kiefer has handwritten across several of the paintings on view.

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Anselm Kiefer, Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr 지금 집이 없는 사람은 이제 집을 짓지 않습니다, 2022. Emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac, lead, rope on canvas, 190 x 280 cm.

In poetry, Kiefer found a timeless language capable of giving voice to the complexities of human experience. As he explains, ‘I think in pictures. Poems help me with this. They are like buoys in the sea. I swim to them, from one to the other. In between, without them, I am lost. They are the handholds where something masses together in the infinite expanse.’ Rather than illustrating one with the other, the artist allows words and images to resonate through him, letting them merge and mutate on the canvas as though through an alchemical process. ‘I’m in constant contact with these poets,’ says Anselm Kiefer. ‘I have a relationship with them, I call on them. I ask them for a critique when I’ve painted something. And so it’s not so much that I quote them, but rather I live with them and talk to them.’ This manifests materially in the richly layered colours and varnishes that make up the leaves protruding from the paintings on view in the exhibition. Their dense tactility suggests the accumulations of knowledge and history, year upon year, strata upon strata.

Throughout the autumn and winter paintings, Anselm Kiefer has included lead and gold leaf, the two materials that mark the beginning and end of the ancient process of alchemy. Practised throughout the mediaeval world, this ancient science sought to transform the basest of metals into the most precious and pure. Lead is a recurring element throughout Anselm Kiefer’s work, one which he describes as ‘the only material heavy enough to carry the weight of human history.’ Juxtaposed with gold, the two metals become a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment, transcendence and rebirth, one that finds echo in the cycle of the passing of the seasons.

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Anselm Kiefer, Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr 지금 집이 없는 사람은 이제 집을 짓지 않습니다, 2021-2022. Emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac on canvas, 190 x 280 cm.

At the heart of the study of alchemy was a belief that all different substances and life forms are made of the same four essential elements, forging a profound connection between the human and natural worlds which is palpable in the exhibition and throughout Rilke’s poetry. As summer turns into autumn and autumn into winter in his verses, the poet weaves together the spiritual world, the natural and the human. ‘Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time, / will stay up, read, write long letters, / and wander the avenues, up and down, / restlessly, while the leaves are blowing’, ends the poem which lends the exhibition its name.

At the centre of the exhibition, a mud-brick installation will constitute a poignant reminder of the scarceness of shelter, connecting the man-made to the cycles of the natural world. As a child growing up in post-war Germany, Anselm Kiefer played among the ruins of the houses that had been destroyed by bombardments. Bricks have become a recurring theme in his practice as a result, symbolising at once the propensity for destruction and the potential for reconstruction and rebirth that are at the centre of human history.

The artist establishes a dialogue between nature and the human condition by placing a brick house at the centre of his paintings of trees and falling leaves. From the past or the present, half-built or half-destroyed, the installation offers an opportunity to identify and think through the personal, as well as the more universal implications of the passage of time and the changing of the seasons. Among the darkness and decay, the same sense of hope seems to emerge from the paintings as from Rilke’s poems: ‘But there is One who holds this falling / Infinitely softly in His hands.’

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Anselm Kiefer, Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr 지금 집이 없는 사람은 이제 집을 짓지 않습니다, 2022. Emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac, lead, rope,on canvas, 190 x 280 cm.