My thought is vertical, but I see all its planes and layers. In my paintings I tell stories in order to show what lies behind history. ~Anselm Kiefer
Kiefer’s monumental body of work occupies a fascinating place in the canon of late 20th Century art. A member of the third generation of avant-garde artists in postwar Germany, Kiefer is arguably the most important German painter since World War II. He is best known for wedding formal inventions rooted in Abstract Expressionist style to resonant subject matter from literature, history, and politics, amongst other often enigmatic things.
7 October, 2011 through 15 January, 2012, the exhibition titled “Anselm Kiefer” opens in Germany featuring selected works from the collection of Hans Grothe: 33 large-format paintings from thirty years with a focus on the last decade. The collection includes works that fascinate due to their unique materials, the compelling density of their messages and the intensity of their aura, becoming especially visible when contrasting the different works. The work “Essence” (2011) from the current series of alpine landscapes will be shown for the first time. And the work “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (1995), part of the Frieder Burda Collection for many years, establishes the connection to the Museum Frieder Burda.
Anselm Kiefer, Der fruchtbare Halbmond (The Fertile Half Moon), 2009, oil and emulsion on canvas, 460 x 760 cm, © Anselm Kiefer, 2011, Courtesy Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V., Abdruck honorarfrei im Rahmen der Ausstellung im Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden.
Though the focus of the exhibition is on the epic painting -in scale and theme- “Der fruchtbare Halbmond“, one of the more ‘hopeful’ pieces in the exhibition: the Tower of Babel collapsed because of the linguistic confusion between the builders, but Kiefer seems to believe that the fertile crescent still is the cradle of civilization, in which developed many of the earliest human civilizations, the birthplace of writing and the wheel. Today it is a region of conflict and war, but Kiefer doesn’t see the ruins as the end, but as a new beginning of building unity in diversity. The former power of the fertile land can be regenerated, the solidarity of the different cultures becomes possible. A rich metaphor, and a strong multicultural statement. Also a beautiful example of one of several of Kiefer’s works in the exhibit where ochre overcomes dark grey. A separation of light(ness) from the darkness.
Anselm Kiefer, Lilith, 1987-1990, oil, emulsion, shellac, plumb, poppy, hair and clay on canvas, 380 x 560 cm, © Anselm Kiefer, 2011, Courtesy Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V., Abdruck honorarfrei im Rahmen der Ausstellung im Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden.
Anselm Kiefer, Shebirat Ha Kelim (Breaking of the Vessels), 1990. Lead, glass, dress and female hair on wood 380 x 250 x 35 cm, © Anselm Kiefer, 2011, Courtesy Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V., Abdruck honorarfrei im Rahmen der Ausstellung im Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden.
Anselm Kiefer, Böhmen liegt am Meer (Bohemia lies by the sea), 1995, 190 x 559 cm, oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac on burlap, © Anselm Kiefer, 2011, Courtesy Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V., Abdruck honorarfrei im Rahmen der Ausstellung im Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden.
In Böhmen liegt am Meer the composition is divided in the center by a rutted country road that recedes in very deep perspective toward an extremely high horizon. On the center ridge of the road and in the fields on either side grow pink-orange flowers, identified by the artist as poppies. In the horizon at the left, the artist has inscribed “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (Bohemia lies by the sea). Here Kiefer’s iconography is highly original, with complex layers of meaning enriched by irony and contradiction. Kiefer has taken the title of this landscape Bohemia Lies by the Sea from that of a famous poem by the renowned Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann. He thereby attached to his painting the theme of Bachmann’s poem, which is in essence about longing for utopia while recognizing that it can never be found.
Recent exhibitions include a retrospective at the Guggenheim Bilbao and Monumenta (2007) at the Grand Palais in Paris. In 2008 the Louvre commissioned a painting for their permanent collection and Kiefer was awarded the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels in Germany. Kiefer, was invited by the Rijksmuseum, 2010, to create a work of art inspired by The Night Watch. The result, the spectacular La berceuse (for Van Gogh), for which he was given complete free rein. His creation at La Ribotte represents his most ambitious work to date in the second half of his career.
Anselm Kiefer, Detail of La berceuse (for Van Gogh), glass vitrines -installation on display in the Rijksmuseum’s Night Watch Gallery, 2010.
Back in the early 1990’s Kiefer left his native country and took over a derelict silk factory near Barjac in the south of France. He has since constructed a series of remarkable installations on this site, building a kind of parallel universe containing tunnels, mazes, bridges, towers, studios, columns, and even an amphitheatre.
Trailer for the film “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow” which premiered at Cannes 2010
Shot in cinemascope, Director Sophie Fiennes’ film constructs visual set pieces alongside observational footage to capture both the dramatic resonance of Kiefer’s art and the intimate process of creation. This polarity -in terms of scale, sensibility and time -animates the film, creating a multi-layered narrative through which to navigate the complex spaces of La Ribotte. Here creation and destruction are interdependent; the film enters into direct contact with the raw materials Kiefer employs to build his paintings and sculptures -lead, concrete, ash, acid, earth, glass and gold. Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow gives privileged access to Kiefer’s last days at La Ribotte prior to his move to Paris, where he now lives and works.