Anselm Kiefer: Des Meeres und der Liebe, White Cube, Hoxton Square, London

3.00

A resolute appetite for destruction

We've been here before, earlier in the week, on all the world's television screens – giant, terrible, destructive seascapes, sublimity writ large... Here it is slightly different, of course. Anselm Kiefer's rectangular seascapes, glazed, framed in the sombrest of sombre blacks, are mounted 12 to a wall, facing each other; at the back of the room, there is yet another, even larger, which meets our eye as we enter. This one has the hulking wreck of a ship suspended from it, guns blazing, perfectly squared up, like a giant, stirring image fresh out of Boy's Own.

All these images (barring the one with the mounted ship) started their lives as photographs; we can see that at a glance. Then they were worked on, pulverized until they squealed. Now they look scarred, pitted, bruised, even burnt. The press release tells us that they have been subjected to electrolysis, which sounds very impressive and very 19th-century. I once asked Kiefer about the battered look of so many of his canvases. How did he achieve it? I leave them outside in the rain, he said, laughing. Kiefer laughs a lot. You wouldn't think so by looking at his work. There is such a weight of seriousness here. Everything is always so grave – in various senses.

We have come to expect Kiefer to be as he is in this gallery today, to overwhelm us with images of such size that there is some kind of emotional capitulation in front of them. Our knees buckle at their very presence. Sublimity! The heart knocks, falters. It is his signature: gigantism. Mahler is with us again. The tendency to heroicise one's own endeavours. Yes, only a museum could accommodate such works as these. Houses would collapse back to rubble at the very sight of them approaching the door. Would it be the same if they were scaled back to a quarter of this size?

This time (and, once again, as so often before) there are handwritten inscriptions, in German, across the faces of the canvases, which sometimes repeat the title of the entire show. It means "The Waves of Sea and Love", and it's a literary allusion. There are yet more literary allusions here and there, less unfamiliar ones – to Hero and Leander, that doomed couple who were much feted by poets. Kiefer draws inspiration from poets time and time again. Poetic references give paintings gravitas, nobility. They persuade us to believe that the artist has been thinking deeply.

Here these inscriptions are companioned by objects which adhere to the surfaces of the canvases, rather gruesome looking things – gynaecological instruments, we are informed. A giant set of calipers to wrest the unwilling child from the womb, a huge stethascope that could be a writhy, cyclops-eyed sea monster of sorts. They are making crab-like, pincering gestures. The human womb and the womb of the sea. That from which we come. That to which we return. We register the connection. We register the weight of these free-floating symbolic objects. We feel troubled by it all. We retreat from the gallery, head bowed, in boundless cogitation. Disappointingly, it is sunny outside, and a child is shrieking with pleasure in an untidy park.

To 9 April ( www.whitecube.com)

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices