A South London Gallery Has Turned Into A Lead-Lined Internment Camp

Anselm Kiefer, White Cube Bermondsey ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 17 months ago

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A South London Gallery Has Turned Into A Lead-Lined Internment Camp Anselm Kiefer, White Cube Bermondsey 5
This is what first greets visitors — a lead lined corridor.

Know what the White Cube in Bermondsey looks like? You need to visit again, because it's been radically transformed.

Visitors enter the usually pristine white corridors to find a lead-lined route reminiscent of an internment camp. There is metal chain link on the ceiling, low lighting, and beds with names on them... but nobody on the mattresses.

The eerie sight is compounded by a rusted second world war-era machine gun lying on one of the beds.

An abandoned ransacked archive is one of the side rooms.

Head into a similarly lead-lined side room and there is a ransacked archive with papers and film strips hanging from the shelves, while a rusted safe seems to have had its lock blown off.

In another room, a bed has sprouted angelic wings but a large boulder sits on it; the spirit has been freed, yet is still tied down to the harsh reality of this world.

Has the occupant gone to heaven or been tied down by an earthly boulder?

Kiefer doesn't try to explain it all, and that's for the best. It forces visitors to discover this sprawling exhibition and form their own narrative around the works. For example there are Norse references everywhere, including the title of the show — but how does it tie into the rest of the exhibition? Let your mind wander and reach its own conclusions.

A few rooms still have the traditional white walls... perhaps they ran out of lead. But they contain heavyweight works nonetheless.

One of Kiefer's colossal paintings.

Kiefer's trademark massive paintings loom over us — thick with paint and other objects buried within the layers — while vitrines contain a stack of rusted bed frames, a suspended tree and a rail of weathered clothing.

In the smallest gallery, torn clothes adorn a rusting spiral staircase that twists up to the ceiling — promising escape but leading to a dead end.

A rusted spiral staircase leads to the ceiling but not beyond.

This is a reflective heavyweight of an exhibition. We didn't think Kiefer could top the superb exhibition he had at the Royal Academy but he has outdone himself here, cementing (or is it leadening?) his reputation as one of the most important artists practising in the world today.

Anselm Kiefer: Walhalla is on at White Cube Bermondsey, 144-152 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ until 12 February. Entrance is free and the gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday.

Last Updated 23 November 2016