1. The German artist Anselm Kiefer in his studio in southeastern France.

Walhalla in Bermondsey

When I listen to Anselm Kiefer in conversation with Tim Marlow at the Royal Institute of British Architects, he seems surprisingly cheerful and witty for an artist whose vision is so dark, heavy, apocalyptic – as very can be seen in Walhalla, his latest show of painting, sculpture and large-scale installation at White Cube, in Bermondsey in south London.

In Norse mythology Valhalla is a mythical realm, a haven for those slain in battle; it is also the name of a neoclassical monument built in 1842 by Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, to honour heroic figures from German history.

The width of the doors to the galleries have been reduced and vastly heightened (to around 20 feet) to become the narrow ways through which we enter Kiefer's subfusc world. First we pass through two rows of rusty single bedsteads covered with leaden metal sheets. A label bearing a woman's name (Brunhilde, for example) is attached to each one and the end of this long 'ward' is a monochrome image of a lone man (the artist) walking away into the misty distance.

Turn right and we find the Archive where, in the deep Stygian gloom, we can just make out heaps of burnt books, unravelled reels of film and dusty cardboard folders. Decay hangs in the air.


2. Bose blumen (Evil Flowers), mixed media on canvas, 470 x 760cm.

In another room, dimly illumined by a row of naked, pendulous light bulbs, is an ancient, winged double bed – but it will never get off the ground as it is occupied by a gigantic boulder. Five smaller rocks lie around the bed on
the floor – perhaps they are its family members.

In his paintings Kiefer's dark explosions of clotted colour ejaculate from his trademark towers that sprout from the cracked, encrusted earth.

In the 9 x 9 x 9 gallery a dilapidated metal staircase, festooned with soiled clothes on wire coat-hangers, spirals up into the ceiling. This is linked to the Valkyries who decided who would live, or die, in battle. They then accompanied the dead to Valhalla, discarding their earthly garments as they went.

Keifer's Walhalla is a world of broken things – rusty bicycles, bedsteads, a wheelchair, wires – and debris – rocks, bricks, stones. But there are also signs of the gods – withered branches in Freya's Garden and an anvil and a hammer on a great block of wood inside a vitrine labelled Thor.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here? Not entirely, because in one glass case entitled Die Seffiroth, there is a glyph, a fragile Cabbalistic Tree of Life symbolising higher worlds. At RIBA, Kiefer says that, it was after some deliberation, that he decided to include it in the show because it was 'personal'. Although raised as a Catholic, he has long been interested in Jewish mysticism and meditation.

He tells me that I am wrong to say that his broken towers seem to represent utter desolation. In fact, he says, they are symbols of hope 'because they are ruined' – perhaps perfection invites destruction, whereas something already broken can hope to be mended. 'A ruin is,' he says, 'a beginning…'.
• (For further details visit http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/)
Lindsay Fulcher


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