Anselm Kiefer’s lead airplane sculptures loom large at Copenhagen Contemporary

Anselm Kiefer’s lead airplane sculptures loom large at Copenhagen Contemporary

At 72 years old, Anselm Kiefer shows little sign of slowing down. The artist recently unveiled a large-scale installation of never-before-seen airplane sculptures and paintings at Copenhagen Contemporary (CC), a vast art centre – and former paper warehouse – located on Papirøen.

Kiefer, a polymath who turned to painting after studying law, Romance languages and literature, has been making lead airplane sculptures since the late 1980s. Here, four battered airplanes in lead and zinc command the 1,500 sq m space. The German artist courts inspiration from literature, poetry, alchemy, astronomy, chemistry, and religion – Kiefer’s affinity for academics is reflected in the stacks of books, literally weighing down the wings of the planes.

The series of gargantuan paintings, meanwhile, nod to photographs Kiefer captured during his travels in the Gobi Desert in 1993 and also to a scene in the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann’s Book of Franza (1955), in which the protagonist fruitlessly seeks solace in the desert.

‘For Louis–Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit’ at Copenhagen Contemporary. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

To wit, there is an air of sorrow that pervades the installation, from the drooping poppies, to the violent swirls of sunflower seeds. Yet, there’s an odd sense of comfort to be found in Kiefer’s work – the sheer scale of the works is inescapably humbling.

The new installation is no small feat even by Kiefer, who produces his work from a breathtaking 200-acre complex in the Cévennes, just outside of Paris. Such is the expanse of Kiefer’s depot that he is able to install a show of CC’s magnitude in his compound – a testament to his perfectionism.

Launched last summer, CC is part of a growing legion of venues – including Hangar Bicocca in Milan and MoMA PS1 in New York – dedicated to larger and more technically demanding art installations. The art centre will be demolished at the end of the year to make way for a new development. Its dissolution, however, is set to be short-lived – the hunt for a new location is already underway. Watch this space.

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