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A Sistine Chapel for Our Time

"Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving." — Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 23 August 1787 — I must confess that I felt no such awe when I first saw the Sistine Chapel, sometime in the seventies. By the time I reached it I was furious, having come from the Vatican Art Museum where I saw works of art that had been plundered but were exhibited as trophies to the glory of the Holy See. The Chapel did nothing to restore my capacity for awe. I giggled at Adam in limp-wristed lassitude, reluctant to receive God’s touch; at God swooping toward him in a conveyance that looks like a cutaway section of a body organ. Feeling suffocated by the reverence of the craning … [Read more...]

Sitting with Anselm Kiefer’s Angel of History and ZimZum (1989)

  At the National Gallery of Art, April 2009 There is the airborne escape mechanism which is the airplane, or the effective instrument of destruction which is the war plane. Anselm Kiefer's The Angel of History is a poetic antithesis of both forms, fabricated of lead, its wings laden with books of beaten lead sheets. The lack of utility makes it not only about art, but a sublime object with which to contemplate the idea of the plane, one of the great icons of the war years of the 20th century. Like all icons its pragmatic uselessness makes it sacred in an areligious way. Its payload of leaden manuscripts piled on the wings, pages stuffed with dried poppies, the better to fuel an auto-da-fé, is a righteous Dada juxtaposition. … [Read more...]