“Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom,” solo exhibition by Anselm Kiefer.
White Cube (50 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong). May 16 – Aug 25, 2012.
From Weibo (China’s answer to Twitter), around May 17, 2012:
Zhang Xiaogang (Chinese artist): White Cube is bringing out new works by established artist Kiefer. Mao and “Hundred Flowers” — why repaint this topic? Is this done specifically for the Chinese market?
timneverdie: …Westerners know three things about China: 1. Mao Zedong 2. Bruce Lee 3. Jackie Chan.
Sun Ning (Platform China): The power of the market and capital in destroying artists is really too great. His status in my mind has evaporated. Ah, my pitiful and yet still beautiful worship and memory of him in my youth — this has now become aged and precious little.
Shen Boliang (Artinfo China): Kiefer even said this time that Mao had better taste than Hitler, saying that he [Mao] is a cultured poet.
These are a small selection of the negative commentary from the popular Chinese micro-blogging website Weibo on Anselm Kiefer’s show at White Cube, Hong Kong. The irony of not letting Mr Kiefer’s own flowers bloom appears to have escaped most.
Anselm Kiefer is a moral historiographer, measuring history and culture by the critical moment of European history, even Western history — the catastrophic rise and ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany. In this sense all Kiefer’s works may be termed “German,” even when the subject involves images of Mao.
Modern Europe, albeit presently in a financial quagmire, is wealthy, democratic, transparent, and egalitarian compared with most other places in the world, and a model of respect for human rights. This respect was built in response to the systematic horror of Nazism in the 1940s. Many guard against its return, including Anselm Kiefer, a relentless sentinel against forgetting.
Kiefer notes that in the 1960s, at the height of the Cultural Revolution in China, Maoism was also popular in Europe (One would have thought that the example of Russia would have taught Western leftists to be cautious about charismatic leaders, but no). “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend” (“baihua qifang, baijia zhengming”) was a slogan from the late-1950s, and one should note the popular Western misquotation of “1,000″ instead of “100,” as Mr Kiefer does.
Germany, like China, suffered from a collective Stockholm Syndrome. It had its false messiah, its little books, its statues, its burnings and punishments, its flower-strewn battlefields, its murders and murderers. It has known what it means to hide from its past, the acts of its forefathers. In the 1960s, however, this taboo crumbled — dramatically — as paper walls tend to (or even concrete or electronic ones), with children asking parents to account for their actions. The parallels between Germany and China are strong.
Anselm Kiefer has spared neither his country nor himself. He has become successful but not through compromise. And as he does not need the cash, I’m skeptical that he needs to sell anything to collectors in China (White Cube may do but they could have chosen any number of easier artists to exhibit in Hong Kong). So is Hong Kong the best venue for these works? No, Beijing is. But that might be difficult right now. Hong Kong is the next best thing.