The new Thaddaeus Ropac gallery is something of an anomaly. Located far from the usual 'beaux quartiers' haunts of multimillionaire collectors and other art market movers and shakers, it’s out among the tower blocks and railway sidings of Pantin, but still manages to attract some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Perhaps, along with its near neighbours the CND and Dyanmo theatre, it is leading a suburban revolution.
And the inaugural show sets the tone; a brand new set of gigantic canvases and installations from Anselm Keifer. ‘Die Ungeborenen’ – literally ‘the unborn’ – perfectly demonstrates the enormous potential of the gallery’s home in a former factory, which has been renovated with maximum attention to elegance and light. Some of the pieces were even created specially for the space.
Painter of transition, Keifer always seems to be finding a balance between the horrors of history and the transcendental beauty of the creative act; between the need to cover his canvases in words and symbols, and the necessity of painting the unspeakable. So this exhibition's focus on limbs seems entirely natural, and fertile ground for his self-expression. The limbs of innocents, stranded somewhere between life and death; life-forms which are not yet recognised and perhaps never will be, except as the forms which only the artist can make palpable. Biblical and mythological references fuse everywhere; illusions to creation, birth and abortion float in a cloud of scratches, grooves and thick layers of paint.
Whirlpools of grey, blue, green, ochre and black plunge the viewer into the depths of amniotic oceans, devastated lands or disembowelled fields turned into sprinklings of ashes. Blackened and rusted objects are attached to the canvases: chairs, an aeroplane’s wing, metal scales, silicon embryos, as if the paintings disgust themselves so much that they vomit up their contents. Or, perhaps, the flotsam was attracted by the force of these almost organic images – sometimes, there's a lingering smell of rotting flowers and scorched earth.
The ensemble is spectacular, without being overwhelming; the airy space gives the exhibition room to breathe, allowing for a human scale and encouraging contemplation through a sense of intimacy. With this series Keifer, descendant of the German painters of the 19th century, once more touches on something that is simultaneously obscure, spiritual and universal. Beautiful, and significant.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11am-7pm