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Anselm Kiefer (born March 8, 1945,
Donaueschingen) is a German painter and sculptor. He studied with
Joseph Beuys during the 1970s. His works incorporate materials like
straw, ash, clay, lead, and shellac. The poems of Paul Celan have
played a role in developing Kiefer's themes of German history and the
horror of the Holocaust, as have the theological concepts of Kabbalah.
Kiefer ranks among the best-known and most successful, but also most
disputed German artists after World War II. In his
entire body of work, Kiefer argues with the past and addresses taboo
and controversial issues from recent history. Themes from Nazi rule
are particularly reflected in his work; for instance, the painting "Margarethe"
(oil and straw on canvas) was inspired by Paul Celan's well-known poem
"Todesfuge" ("Death Fugue"). Polemical discussions in the media over
the value of his artistic work have taken place for many decades.
His works are characterised by a dull/musty, nearly depressive,
destructive style and are often done in large scale formats. In most
of his works, the use of photography as an output surface is prevalent
and earth and other raw materials of nature are often incorporated. It
is also characteristic of his work to find signatures and/or names of
humans, legendary figures or places particularly pregnant with history
in nearly all of his paintings. All of these are encoded sigils
through which Kiefer seeks to process the past; this often gets him
linked with a style called "New Symbolism."
In 1951 he moved to Ottersdorf and attended grammar school in Rastatt.
In 1966 he left law and Romance language studies at University of
Freiburg to study at art academies in Freiburg, Karlsruhe, and
Düsseldorf. Kiefer began his career as a body massager with
performances in which he mimicked the Nazi salute calling for Germans
to remember and to acknowledge the loss to their culture through the
mad xenophobia of the Third Reich. In 1969 at Galerie am Kaiserplatz,
Karlsruhe, he presented his first single exhibition "Besetzungen
(Occupations)" with a series of photographs about controversial
By 1970 while studying under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys in
Düsseldorf Kunstakademie, his stylistic leanings resembled Georg
Baselitz' approach. He worked with glass, straw, wood and plant parts.
The use of these materials meant that his artworks became temporary
and fragile, which Kiefer himself is well aware of. The fragility of
his work is contrasted against the stark subject matter in his
paintings. This use of familiar materials to express ideas, was
influenced by Joseph Beuys' art practice, in which Beuys used fat and
carpet felt. It is also typical of the Neo-expressionist style. In the
1970s he incorporated German mythology (see also: Jonathan Meese) in
particular , and in the following decade he argued with the Kabbalah.
He went on expanded journeys throughout Europe, USA and the middle
east, in which the latter two journeys further influenced his work.
Besides paintings, Kiefer created sculptures, watercolors, woodcuts,
photographs and books.
By the 1980s, Kiefer’s themes widened from a focus on Germany's role
in civilization to the fate of art and culture in general. His work
became more sculptural and involved not only national identity and
collective memory, but also occult symbolism, theology and mysticism.
The theme of all the work is the trauma experienced by entire
societies, and the continual rebirth and renewal in life.
In 1990 he was awarded a Wolf Prize. In 1999 the Japan Art Association
awarded him the Praemium Imperiale for his lifetime achievements. In
the explanatory statement it reads:
"A complex critical engagement with history runs through Anselm
Kiefer's work. His paintings as well as the sculptures of Georg
Baselitz created an uproar at the 1980 Venice Biennale: the viewers
had to decide whether the apparent Nazi motifs were meant ironically
or whether the works were meant to convey actual fascist ideas. Kiefer
worked with the conviction that art could heal a traumatized nation
and a vexed, divided world. He created epic paintings on giant
canvases that called up the history of German culture with the help of
depictions of figures such as Richard Wagner or Goethe, thus
continuing the historical tradition of painting as a medium of
addressing the world. Only a few contemporary artists have such a
pronounced sense of art's duty to engage the past and the ethical
questions of the present, and are in the position to express the
possibility of the absolution of guilt through human effort."
Since 1992 he established in Barjac, France and transformed his
35-hectare studio compound La Ribaute into a Gesamtkunstwerk, which
can literally be entered. His studio is enormous and in many ways is a
comment on industrialization. He has created there an extensive system
of glass buildings, archives, installations, storerooms for materials
and paintings, subterranean chambers and corridors.
From 1995 to 2001, Kiefer started a cycle of large paintings of the
cosmos. He also started to turn to sculpture, though lead still
remains his preferred medium.
Anselm Kiefer’s exhibition, Velimir Chlebnikov, was first shown in a
small studio near Barjac in the South of France then moved to White
Cube in London and finished in the Aldrich Museum in rural
Connecticut. The work is comprised of 30 large paintings—six-feet high
and around 10-feet long—hanging on two banks of 15 on facing walls of
a expressly constructed grooved steel building that mimics the studio
in which it was originally created. The works are cluttered with items
such as string, gloves, sunflowers and miniature warships. While most
of Keifer’s works explore the ambitions and failures of humans, this
work illustrates the ability to love and create despite our tendency
for evil and vanity.
The builder and arts patron Hans Grothe will present 30 to 50 of the
artist's works in the yet-to-be-constructed Anselm Kiefer Museum near
the Kurfurstendamm in Berlin in 2007.