La vie secrète des plantes

Anselm Kiefer, La Vie secrète des plantes
An exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Centre Pompidou
With artworks by Joseph Beuys,
Lothar Baumgarten and Wolfgang Laib

July 6 – November 5, 2017

In 2017, the Centre Pompidou is celebrating its 40th anniversary throughout France. To share the celebration with a wider audience, it will be presenting a completely new programme of exhibitions, outstanding loans and various events throughout the year. Exhibitions, shows, concerts and meetings will be staged in 40 French cities in partnership with museums, contemporary art centres, performance halls, a festival, a key player in France’s cultural and artistic fabric and many more. At the crossroads of different disciplines, like the Centre Pompidou, this programme show the Centre Pompidou’s commitment, since its creation, side by side with the cultural institutions throughout France – essential players in the dissemination and development of art in our time.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Centre Pompidou, Bernard Blistène, Director of the National Museum of Modern Art, generously let us choose an iconic work from the Centre Pompidou collections. Our choice quickly turned to Anselm Kiefer with a collection rarely presented because of its format and its fragility. “La Vie secrète des plantes” is a monumental cycle of ten paintings that the artist made in 2001-2002 during a period of intense creativity after settling in Barjac in 1993, after leaving his native Germany and his gigantic Buchen workshops in Baden-Württemberg.

“La Vie secrète des plantes” made its debut at the Parisian gallery of Yvon Lambert who offered his market share to enable the acquisition that would mark the hundredth anniversary of the Friends of the National Museum of Modern Art in 2003. For the Collection Lambert and its community, the opportunity was too good to ask for this collection to be exhibited in Avignon, not far from its birthplace in the Gard department.

Three other great names in German art have been associated with this exceptional exhibition. Each one in his own way summarises the end of the Second World War and the construction of Europe. Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) symbolises all the drama of the mid-twentieth century. An art student, he was enlisted as a pilot of the German army, the Luftwaffe, at a very young age. In 1944, his plane crashed in the Crimea. Given up for dead and cared for by Tartar nomads, he went on to transform his miraculous healing into an “individual mythology”. This extremely personal and romantic parable would illustrate the revival of a Germanic culture rid of the ghosts of Nazism, as the strong symbol of a Germany in search of new aesthetic landmarks.

Beuys, who was a professor at the Arts Academy of the city of Düsseldorf in 1959 and an artist with a brilliant international career in the early 1970s, applied his theories based on unprecedented Gesamtkunstwerk in Europe. Mixing art with life, and aesthetic action with political gestures, Beuys became one of the founding fathers of Grünen, the German Green Party, which made quite an entrance to the German Parliament in 1979.
The works presented break down the boundaries between art and society.

Anselm Kiefer, who was born two months before the end of the war on the ashes of a devastated Germany, constructed his kaleidoscopic work by creating his own great Germanic myths until he moved to Barjac. It was here that he developed a fusional and literary relationship with nature, the landscape and the cosmos: “History for me is a material like landscape or colour”.

The great lead works exhibited in the halls come from pieces of the Cologne Cathedral roof, which was bombed by the Allies in 1944, and prove the importance of bringing art to life on the ruins of the past. Les Filles du Rhin by Richard Wagner, the Lily of the Annunciation, and the serpent that undulates through a landscape of Genesis are some fine examples collected by Yvon Lambert.

Kiefer, who also studied at the Arts Academy of the city of Düsseldorf, attended the renowned classes of Joseph Beuys, as did his contemporary Lothar Baumgarten, considered the last disciple of the Master.

In his very poetic way, Baumgarten, born in 1944, led the quest for an ecology in a virgin world that led him to the shores of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques. As early as 1977, Baumgarten regularly stayed in the Amazon, fleeing in his own way the guilt of a Germany cut in two by the “Wall of Shame” separating a block in the East and a block in the West from 1961 to 1989. Far from the Old Continent, Beuys’s pupil reinvented a visual arts language every day stemming from an enchanting culture but destined to disappear, at the heart of unstoppable deforestation made up of words, names of insects, birds or plants facing extinction.

Finally, Wolfgang Laib, born in 1950, continues this quest for a shared dialogue with Mother Nature. He makes both aesthetic and symbolic materials his own: maternal and immaculate milk, pollen with honey and wax fostering Greek myths and Indian tales, rice, an almost translucent nourishing seed that preserves the ancestral mystery of the secret life of plants.

Laib may seem as minimalistic as Anselm Kiefer may seem baroque but here, in this exhibition and through the bright rooms of the museum, all these works answer one another through a sophisticated dialogue where Europe – reunified with Germany – and ecology – which has become the climate issue of tomorrow – are both at the heart of art that is both ancestral and visionary.