On assignment at MASS MoCA for the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago, I had what was for me a rare experience of witnessing the somewhat frenetic last-minute installation interplay among an artist, collector and museum director, right before the opening of the press preview for a new 15-year installation, in a repurposed water cistern, of three monumental works from the collection of Andrew and Christine Hall by the renowned German artist Anselm Kiefer.
A New Art Partnership, my WSJ review of MASS MoCA’s new Hall Art Foundation/Anselm Kiefer pavilion, will be on the “Leisure & Arts” page of tomorrow’s paper (but is online now at the above link).
As I reported in my article, Kiefer, who now lives in Paris, hadn’t set eyes on the installation until a few hours before the preview. He immediately set to work rearranging things, which occasioned some “active discussions,” in the words of Andrew Hall, who chatted with me outside (and showed me an image of a Kiefer watercolor he had just picked up at Christie’s), after he decided to remove himself from the fray.
“Although Kiefer no longer owns the actual objects, he still feels very much a sense of ownership, so he rearranges it at will,” explained Joseph Thompson, MASS MoCA’s long-time director, who patiently mediated differences between the artist and the owner over certain installation details.
Thompson told me:
I think the Hall Art Foundation was, first of all, quite generous to invite Kiefer in to be involved. There could have been a different way: It’s their art, their building….We often work directly with artists, with no intermediaries at all. So layering in the owner between the installation and the artist is fascinating. There are always tensions. Everybody has an idea….When you have a living artist, the artist is the ultimate arbiter, within reason.
As you can see from the image above, Kiefer, 68, arrived with his left arm in a sling, the result, as he told me, of having injured his shoulder from repetitively raising his arm to paint. Having grown up in an era when German left-handed children were forced to be “righties,” he writes with his right hand. So he was able to produce the inscriptions in black crayon that appear on the walls above each of the three works.
Kiefer ordered the repositioning of heavy elements in two pieces, as well as the complete removal of one monumental painting, “A.E.I.O.U. (Elizabeth of Austria),” which I was sorry to see loaded back onto the truck after I had admired it. The artist felt it detracted from “Étroits sont les Vaisseaux,” for which it had briefly served as a backdrop.
I’ll have more to say about my time in the Berkshires later. But for now, here’s my CultureGrrl Slideshow from the MASS MoCA installation and from a companion exhibition of early Kiefers on loan (through Dec. 22) to the Williams College Museum of Art from the Hall Collection and the Kiefer Studio: