6 November 2010 “The lesson of looking” – the opening of Kiefer's painting “Das Haar” at the National Museum

Yesterday's meeting with Herta Müller opened the discussion about uprooting, being lost in another world and foreign speech – the issues with which the author of “The Death Fugue” struggled for his entire life – the Jew of Romanian origin – Paul Celan. A great addition to this dimension of literary debate was the opening of the painting “Das Haar” by the outstanding contemporary German artist – Anselm Kiefer, together with Günter Grass, regarded as the voice of awareness of contemporary Germans. The impressive canvas refers directly to Celan's poetry. With the kindness of Ms Grażyna Kulczyk and the Art Stations Foundation, we could admire it yesterday during the meeting at the National Museum. The author himself accepted the invitation of the Conrad Festival, but due to the great exhibition of his works prepared in New York, he couldn’t appear personally at Wawel.

Pictures: Wojciech Wandzel, www.wandzelphoto.com

The impressive painting presents an empty, vast landscape and a dark and quiet sky. On canvas there are three chairs hung: on one there are branches, on the opposite a bundle of human hair. The symbolic empty chair in the middle of the visual field waits for the audience – it invites us to take a seat in the centre of the painting and in history. All participants agreed that “Das Haar” formulates a new relationship between the artist and the observer, the viewer and the past. Kiefer's masterpiece was watched after a remarkable meeting with Herta Müller and while waiting for heated discussions about “The Death Fugue” – it revealed the relations which we could not recognise earlier ... The participants of the opening, together with Agnieszka Sabor and Paulina Kolczyńska – curator of the painting – opened further possibilities of interpretation, new perspectives of comprehending this complex and disturbing canvases. In searching for links between Celan and Kiefer, Sabor proposed one of the ways of interpretation: “What unites them is a struggle with culture that has proven deadly for them. Kiefer's cycle is not only the story of the trauma of war, of historical responsibility, but the fight of German culture and language.” During yesterday's opening, Paulina Kolczyńska also talked about why Kiefer became part of the collection: “We were looking for a painting that would correspond to the contemporary perspective and would be a reflection of what is most valuable in painting in the second half of the twentieth century. “Das Haar” focussed our needs perfectly.”

Participants of the festival's opening were very committed in trying to decipher parts of the text in German, which constitute part of the painting. This turned out to be more difficult than understanding the scattered runic symbols on the canvas. The curator of the painting promised that she would get in touch with Kiefer himself in this matter and pass on the information which would appear on the website of the National Museum. It is worth mentioning that until 14 November at the Gallery of Polish Art of the XX Century, Jarosław Modzelewski's canvas entitled “Joseph Conrad” (1983) can be seen.