Kiefer and Khlebnikov

From the website of the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg:

In 2016, Anselm Kiefer, inspired by his visit to St. Petersburg, created a new exhibition project specially for the Hermitage Museum. It is in the triadic space of the colossal Nikolaevsky Hall of the Winter Palace that Kiefer chose to display around 30 new works dedicated to the Russian futurist-poet Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922).

As an art project, Für Chlebnikov is much older than 2016: it went on display in the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square, near Old Street, as early as 2005. If I understand correctly, Kiefer keeps adding new works to his Khlebnikov corpus. Some were shown in a courtyard of the Royal Academy in 2014, and some are on permanent display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The Nikolaevsky hall, built in the late 1790s and restored after the 1837 fire, hosted an exhibition of Zaha Hadid’s work in 2015.

The Hermitage explains the Kiefer-Khlebnikov connection in this manner:

One of Khlebnikov’s central ideas is that major pivotal naval and terrestrial battles endlessly repeat every 317 years. This foresight was for Kiefer a thread to reflect on themes of war and peace, the fugacity and finitude of all human aspirations and the mercilessness of fate.

This is not how I would introduce one of the most influential Russian poets of the 20th century. Khlebnikov’s odd numerology might have been as important to him as Biblical chronology was to Newton and spiritualism to Yeats, and his quirky theories of time might have been inseparable from his poetic insights. Nevertheless, his poetry deserves the first word, ahead of his other pursuits.

By the way, the number 317 appears to have a literary pedigree: it’s a rearrangement of three, seven, ace, the three magic cards from Pushkin’s (and, later, Tchaikovsky’s) Queen of Spades.

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