Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Kyle Chayka revisits Anselm Kiefer’s Velimir Chlebnikov.
The summer before I went to college, in 2006, I worked as a guard at the Aldrich Museum, a contemporary-art museum an hour from where I grew up in the Connecticut woods. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I’m fairly certain it always will be. For ten dollars an hour—a royal sum for a teenager whose only other gig had been making cider donuts at an apple orchard—I and five or six other guards, some retirees and others fellow students, stationed ourselves in the airy galleries to make sure none of the guests touched or collided with the art on display. Mainly, our responsibility was to have conversations with visitors reassuring them of the validity of the curatorial decisions: Yes, this is art. When there was no one around to question contemporary aesthetics, we sat on foldout stools and read, drew, or knitted. (In this way, I made my way through most of Haruki Murakami’s oeuvre.)
That summer, one of the galleries on rotation—we switched locations on the hour, so over the course of a day every guard got a full tour—was a two-story-tall corrugated-steel pavilion built on a cement plinth outside on the museum’s grounds. The pavilion was a work by the German artist Anselm Kiefer, a painter and sculptor known for the gnarled surface of his huge canvases as well as for his gothic sensibility: an atmosphere of fallen historical grandeur pervades his work. Inside the rectangular pavilion’s towering metal doors, the two side walls were hung with thirty paintings arranged in grids, covering every inch. Read More