Thursday, May 22, 2008

ANSELM KIEFER’S PURSUIT OF FORGIVENESS AND INDIVUALITY


Linda Y
Mr. G
English 12 H. Period 6
19 May 2008


As a German artist known for incorporating German, Hebrew, and Egyptian history, and the outcomes of the Holocaust, Anselm Kiefer’s art represents his search of identity. Born on March 8, 1945 in Donaueschingen in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Kiefer first focused on his studies in law and the Romance languages before pursuing his interests in the arts. In 1965, Kiefer attended Albert Ludwigs University (Guggenheim Collection).

Then for the next four years, he began his study in the arts Peter Dreher and Horst Antesat the Staatliche Hochschule der Bildenden Künste (“Anselm Kiefer.” White Cube.). His studies in art continued with Horst Antes at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe in 1969. In the following year, his studies led him to meet Joseph Beuys, who inspired him greatly in his artwork (“Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth.” SFMOMA). They shared the same interest incorporating cultural myths and symbols related to German history.

During this time, Kiefer released his first pieces of artwork in the form of a series of photographs called Occupations where he held his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie am Kaiserplatz in Karlsruhe. (“Guggenheim Collection”). In these photographs, Kiefer includes self-portraits taken in France, Switzerland, and Italy, which showed him in a military outfit with a Nazi-like salute. Occupations was the first time Kiefer displayed his search for identity, which was conflicted with Germany’s past history relating to the Holocaust and World War I.

After Occupations, Kiefer’s next early pieces of work includes Winter Landscape (1970) and Man in the Forest (1973), which emphasized his search for a definition of his identity by showing human suffering (“Guggenheim Collection.”). Then Kiefer began to focus on architecture with large-scale canvases. In 1974, Kiefer diverted his interest to myths by including certain symbols that carry a meaning along with adding natural elements such as earth to the artwork (Celant 5).

In the 1980s, Kiefer’s artwork became more complex with the addition of more natural materials and a sense of complexity. He introduced materials such as wood, sand, lead, and straw. Although his art appeared to be dark and complex, the addition of the new materials added a sense of fragility of history. The next pieces of artwork Kiefer released were based upon the Holocaust and the rule of the Nazis (Goetz).

Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Anselm Kiefer combined the subjects of myths and German history together. His subject did change later in the 1990s when he looked beyond Germany as the focus of his artwork and moved towards an interest of the stars and cosmos, such as the Light Compulsion (1999) (“Guggenheim Collection.”). From then on, Kiefer used flight and wings in his artwork as he changed not only from paintings but also to mixed media and sculptures (Saltzman).

The artwork of Anselm Kiefer uses elements and iconology of the air and the sky to represent the traumatizing history of Germany in World War II. Anselm Kiefer is similar to

  • ...a tragic protagonist or hero [that] suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically connected with the hero's actions. Tragedy stresses the vulnerability of human beings whose suffering is brought on by a combination of human and divine actions, but is generally undeserved with regard to its harshness. (“Introduction to Greek Tragedy” Classics Technology Center).

As in a Greek tragedy, Kiefer is similar to the protagonist. He suffers from the burden of Germany’s history, which is “connected to his actions.” His actions, including creating artwork, produce an illusion that would allow people to accept Germany for its past. Kiefer makes many references to the sky or to the cosmos to allow viewers to forgive the Germans for the Holocaust. Born near the end of the Holocaust, Kiefer uses his artwork to reflect the fatherland, Germany, where he is the son. In the Oedipus complex, the son tries to find an identity while trying to follow the father (Saltzman 65). Kiefer, as the son of Germany, uses the heavens to emphasize how it is necessary to gain forgiveness in representation of the father. Also in the Daedulus and Icarus myth, Icarus becomes intrigued with the heavens and flies towards it. As the son of Germany, Kiefer uses heavens as an icon as a way of self-identity as representation of himself and his father, Germany.

As an artist, Anselm Kiefer uses mythology in his works to create his own world. In this world, Kiefer attempts to explain the reasons as to why life and the earth is the way it is. Through his art, he creates his own world or an interpretation as an illusion of reality. Kiefer believes,

  • There is no history. Each human being made his own history, has his own thoughts and his own world but everyone is along with his own illusions with his own methods...I think each human being tries to put themselves in a bigger context. You always create an illusion that you stay longer on earth than you do...That’s what a religion is...This reassures you in a sense in the work because in this world there is no sense. So the scientific process...doesn’t lead to any key to the work....the more we know, more we don’t know. It’s always like this only mythology...tries to explain the world in a logical sense. (“Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth.” SFMOMA).

Anselm Kiefer’s creation of his personal illusion helps him to represent himself and Germany. The illusions that he creates are various forms of his flight towards the heavens as the son of Icarus. For example, the

Book With Wings are a flight using angel-like wings, but the Seven Heavenly Palaces are through building towers. Through his art, the illusion includes forms of the Holocaust and the despair of the events. By including the symbols of air or the sky, Kiefer is searching for a way towards heaven. Heaven, as a place for salvation, needs to be achieved through forgiveness of sins. Kiefer carries Germany’s sins, because he is the son while Germany is the father. The reason as to why Kiefer includes the symbols of air into his art is because, “I am interested in reconstructing symbols. It’s about connecting with an older knowledge and trying to discover continuities in why we search for heaven,” (Kiefer “Anselm Kiefer Explores And Confronts the Past”). By creating the illusions through his art, Kiefer illusions are forms of pleading for forgiveness. The viewers of his art see the despair that Germany is feeling after the Holocaust with Kiefer as the representation the nation itself.

The relationship between Icarus and Daedulus has a very significant relation with Anselm Kiefer and Germany. Daedulus tells his son not to fly towards the heavens, yet Icarus disobeys his father. By disobeying his father, Icarus tries to find his own identity. Icarus’s rebellious personality is similar to Kiefer as he attempts to follow the task /goal with his art. Kiefer’s art and creation of an illusion is his own attempt. Anselm Kiefer’s use of iconology of air and the sky represent the flight of Icarus. The reason why Icarus flies towards the heavens is because he wants forgiveness for his father after the murder of his cousin.

Anselm Kiefer’s “Book with Wings” features a large book with two angel-like wings coming out of its two opposite sides, resting on a thin metal stand. When looked closely, the book does not have any writing but appears to be aged. Instead of any writing or inscriptions, the pages have the effect of paper that had been soaked but dried again. There is a significant difference between the left and right sides of the artwork. On the right side of the Book With Wings, the wing is longer and expands much further in comparison to the left (probably a width difference of two feet at least). It is made up of feathers, but the feathers that make up the left wing are different from the right. The left wing is lower and the feathers have a longer mass while the right wing has the typical vision of angel wings. The mass of each right wing feather is much shorter and wider. The tip of the left wing does not seem to be complete as if it had been ripped apart from its original source. The tip is separated into three feathers. The middle feather extends further than the other two, which are about the same length. Also, the left wing has a longer length than the right wing, giving the shape of the wing more curvature at the bottom. Kiefer’s sculpture is realistic enough to show the clarity of the separation of pages. The left side of the book appears to have more pages that the right. The front page that flipped is not even as space comes between the top and the previous page. Kiefer gives the effect that the page has not been properly pressed down for the air to escape the pages. The image of the book is either that the book was opened while a light breeze blew by or the reader did not properly flip the page.

The sculpture is 13 feet wide made with lead, tin, and steel. Made entirely of metal, the Book with Wings has the colors of gray and copper. The types of materials Kiefer uses into his art are chosen very specifically. In each of his artworks, the resources are from the natural earth. The gray color that comes from lead is the reason why he chose the metal. Kiefer says, “You cannot say it is light or dark. It is a color or noncolor that I identify with. I do not believe in absolutes. The truth is always gray,” (“Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth.” SFMOMA). Like the color gray, Kiefer tries to create his own individuality as an artist. The irony of the materials is that the wings are made of lead. The book, itself, also made with the metal, holds a heavy history of Germany. Metal, which is considered to be heavy, which is not likely to fly. Instead he could have used materials such as feathers to symbolize the flight, yet Kiefer’s choice of materials even give a certain message: although he wants viewers to forgive Germany of its past, it is still not forgiven.

According to Kiefer, “The book, the idea of a book or the image of a book is a symbol of learning, of transmitting knowledge...I make my own books to find my way through the old stories” (Arasse). By using the symbol of the book, Kiefer is referring to himself. He has the knowledge and background of Germany’s history and the book is the chronology of his life. With the addition of the wings, Kiefer refers to them as Icarus’s wings. Icarus, as the son of Daedulus, flew towards the sun by using his father’s invention. Germany’s history still remains and Kiefer attempts to “create elegies for Germany’s tragic history, and in doing so asks his viewers to bury their hatred and their differences” (“Anselm Kiefer” ArtandCulture). Kiefer wants the history or himself, as the representation, to be forgiven. In flight to the heavens, Kiefer wants Germany to be no longer remembered for its tragic events. As a book containing all of Germany ’s history, it is being released into the air with wings of an angel.

The idea of the myth of Daedulus and Icarus can be seen in a different point of view. According to Daniel Arasse,

  • If Kiefer regards Icarus – son of Daedulus, the creator of the labyrinth of Crete – as a likeliness of the modern artist (Icarus – Brandenburg Sand, 1981), it could be said in return that he himself is the Daedulus of his own artistic realm, the only person who knows the passage and shortcuts, the folks and the return paths (Arasse).

Kiefer can be seen as both Icarus and Daedulus. If he is seen as Daedulus, Kiefer creates the illusion with his artwork that holds all the burdens, similar to Daedulus. Before the death of his son, Daedulus was jealous of his nephew and eventually attempted to push him off a high tower. When Icarus died, he still carries the burden. In relation to Anselm Kiefer, only Kiefer truly understands his artwork. He creates an alternate illusion made from his own history that he created. He attempts to create a new pathway for Germany after the tragic past, which is similar to Daedulus helping Icarus to fly away. He wants to free the younger German citizens from that burden.

In Anselm Kiefer’s Falling Stars (1995), a man is shown lying naked up to his waist on the ground staring at the stars. With no signs of clouds, the sky is filled with myriad stars. The stars are clusters made of white specs, giving the black sky a glowing effect as if in reality. The colors of the night sky are mixed in with dark purple, blue green, yellow, gray, and green-ish brown. The clusters of colors create holes of black that lack the group of stars. The man lying on the ground is wearing a pair of gray pants with the effect of the colors blue, gray, green, and yellow. He wears no shirt nor does he wear any shoes or socks. When looked at closely, the man appears to have his eyes closed with his face towards the sky. He seems to be balding with a receding hairline, but his leftover hair is black. The man’s palms are open as his whole body position is stiff. The chest appears to be dirty, maybe from the ground. The ground the man is lying on is flat, but seems to be cracking, as if the ground lacks water. The lines that mark the cracked ground are a mixture of dark blue and gray that surrounds the sections of beige and yellow. The area where is shaded mostly with a gray-ish blue over the once beige ground. He blends the blue and gray from the sky and paints it over the ground colors.

The techniques that he uses are very particular to the theme and purpose for the effect of the artwork. Kiefer “says he does not use a palette himself, Kiefer regards the palette as an iconic symbol of the power of artistic expression. He often depicts the palette in a suspended state between earth and the heavens, literally connecting the two realms,” (“Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth.” SFMOMA). Kiefer constantly refers to heaven and earth in his paintings. As the man is lying down on the cracked ground, Kiefer, himself is similar to him. Although he faces towards the sky, Kiefer hopes to fly towards the sky. As stated before, the sky is symbolic for forgiveness, which is referred to what happens in heaven. Anselm Kiefer offers, “an indication of humanity’s desire to comprehend the vastness of heaven. The stars offer a link not only to the ancient past, but also to the infinite realms beyond time and space.” (“Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth.” SFMOMA). The heavens represent human desire. In this case, Kiefer’s purpose as an artist is to have his viewers accept Germany ’s past. In addition, he adds melted lead, “onto his already ashen canvas which serves to heighten the suggestion of incineration. One cannot help but ask. Are we looking inside the oven of chambers of the crematoria?” (Goetz).

The techniques used such as pouring lead onto the painting gives the artwork a certain effect. The lead, which can be seen in the region between the night sky and the cracked ground, relates directly to the Holocaust as many Jews were burned in crematories. As viewers, we are unsure of whether the man is alive or not. He is similar to a corpse about to be cremated and looking towards the heavens. In addition, “In his artworks, the earth appears to have been injured in some way, offering evidence of human catastrophe...plowing and burning...earth can be reborn and create new growth toward the sun,” (“Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth.” SFMOMA). Because the sun is not present, no new growth would be done for the earth. It appears to have been injured, but since the timing of the painting is the night time the human catastrophe will remain. The human catastrophe, the Holocaust, still remains. The renewal of the ground would represent the flight of Icarus towards the sun. Icarus, or Kiefer, cannot make any journey towards the sun.

In “Rapunzel,” Anselm Keifer uses very specific details in each part of his painting. Although the main focus is the building, there are also intricate features that show his efforts into painting on top of the photograph. Rapunzel was originally a photograph of Kiefer’s sculptures or buildings, the Seven Heavenly Palaces. The Seven Heavenly Palaces are seven towers built by Kiefer to represent a sense of chaos that had occurred. According to Kiefer, “What interests me is the transformation, not the monument. I don’t construct ruins, but I feel ruins are monuments when things show themselves. A ruin is not a catastrophe. It is the moment when things starts again,” (Kiefer: An artist with monumental force.” International Herald Tribune.). Kiefer constructed the Seven Heavenly Palaces to look the way they do, because they represent a sense of chaos and are not ruins.

At first glance, the building is the main focal point. Made up of four layers or floors, it does not appear to be steady, which makes it similar to Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa. The top layer of the building is at a 45-degree angle to the right but is also leaning towards the left as though a gust of wind tries to tilt it over. On the right side, which is shown, there are columns, which seem to be shined upon by a source of light coming from the right. The second block from the top (or layer) leans towards backwards with a large dark hole. Inside the hole, smudges of purple-ish blue can be seen if looked at closely. Spurring from the dark hole is long flowing “hair.” As if blown by the wind, the “hair” curls from the right and over to the left. The strands of hair appear to be made up of a mixture of hazel brown and black with a hint of the purple-ish blue. The third layer has a hole to the left side of the block, but is not completely broken down yet. There are still bits of the building color, a mixture of slate blue light, lavender blush, and ivory. The last block is shown the least of the layers, but its foundation does not appear to be stable. The milk chocolate ground has cracks that are not black, but in a van dyke brown, which are shaped like dead vines and leaves. The center of the soil is sunken in which create a darker shade of the milk chocolate color, which is similar to a coffee brown.

The painting overall has a covering of paint and splashes of color. Keifer appeared to have used watercolors to paint over the “finished” photographic paper. The colors he uses are rosy brown, steel blue light, orchid medium, and gold ochre. The colors are specks on top of the “finished” material as if splashed from the paintbrush onto the canvas. The specks are most crowded to the right of the painting while the bottom left seems to be lacking in the distribution. Keifer actually uses soil to cover and to create that effect along with paint. From a far away point of view, Keifer seems to have made a border inside the painting which does not cut off at the bottom.

Ironically, Anselm Kiefer added soil to the sky in Rapunzel. The addition of soil to the photograph of the Seven Heavenly Palaces might refer to the idea being contaminated by the earth. The soil is mostly scattered in the skies, but nowhere on the ground. Because the land represents the trauma, the heavens become corrupted. Even the hair spans from the tower or palace and follows the currents of the wind. The domination of natural and earth products represents the deteriorating clarity of the once vision. With the contamination of the soil over the skies, Kiefer might be using the hair as a sign for help. Like in the story Rapunzel, hair is used to assist the protagonist. In the story of Rapunzel, the prince climbs up the tower for a sense of happiness with Rapunzel. Kiefer’s message might be that he, similar to the protagonists of the story of Rapunzel, is climbing up the hair as assistance to happiness. In this case, happiness is the achievement of forgiveness. Currently, Anselm Kiefer might have lost sight of his original goal, represented by the domination of the soil, but still continues to climb up towards the heavens using the assistance of the hair. The absence of the sun might refer to Kiefer’s struggles for forgiveness. Although there is no sun and no growth, Kiefer uses the hair to reach the heavens. His pursuit as the son of Germany continues although nature is not helping him except for the hair.

The most significant difference between Rapunzel and the Seven Heavenly Palaces is the strands of hair Anselm Kiefer had used. He uses natural human hair because, “The emotive quality of his work arises from the unique textures of his paintings; he applies thick, impasto-style, then covers the canvases with organic materials such as earth sand, straw, and hair. These dense incrustation close the space between the canvases and the observer, and visual experience becomes intimate” (“Anselm Kiefer” ArtandCulture Artist). The use of natural materials gives Kiefer’s art a sense of a relationship between the ground and desire. The reason as to why Kiefer uses the natural products is that he is closer to the ground. The desire is far-reached, but he still attempts at reaching the heavens. To reach the heavens, Kiefer built the Seven Heavenly Palaces to be able to reach towards the skies. The creation of the seven towers symbolize Kiefer’s journey towards heavens because he does not possess the ability of flight. Because the earth is damaged, there can be no growth in the future. The message to Rapunzel is that although Kiefer attempts to uses his artistic skills to bring forgiveness towards his history, Kiefer might not be able to do so.

Anselm Kiefer’s artworks are his way of devotions towards a certain purpose. When his artwork is being viewed, the observer sees the German history, including the Holocaust and all that the nation had suffered for. By seeing the symbols of Germany’s past, they feel regret. Throughout many of Kiefer’s art, air and height are being used. His artworks (i.e. Seven Heavenly Palaces, Falling Stars, and Book with Wings) symbolize a desire for forgiveness because many show the journey towards the heavens. Kiefer, as a Neo-expressionist artist, creates an illusion for his artworks in representation of his fatherland, Germany.


Works Cited

“Anselm Kiefer.” Art and Culture Artist <http://artandculture.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/ACLive.woa/wa/artist?id=64>

  • It is a brief overview of Anselm Kiefer’s life and art. His inspirations and background are written about. The website highlights certain famous paintings, the type of art Kiefer does, and the qualities of the pieces of art.

“Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth.” SFMOFA <

http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/exhib_detail.asp?id=2347>.
  • The website is about Kiefer’s exhibition of Heaven and Earth in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It includes a slideshow of his background, his pieces of art and their descriptions, Kiefer’s interviews, and a review of the exhibition.

“Anselm Kiefer Quotes.”

artquotes.net <http://www.artquotes.com/masters/kiefer/index.htm>.
  • The website gives famous quotes by Anselm Kiefer.

“Anselm Kiefer.” White Cube. <

http://www.whitecube.com/artists/Kiefer>.
  • A very brief overview of Kiefer’s life and works of art.

Arasse, Daniel. Anselm Kiefer. United Kingdoms : Thames & Hudson Ltd. 2001.

  • The book was about Kiefer’s way of life while producing his art. It shows Kiefer’s transition of inspiration in his life.

Celant, Germano. Anselm Kiefer. Ed. Juan Ignacio Vidante. Palazzo Casati Stampa: Skira editore SpA, 2007.

  • The book displays Anselm Kiefer’s art and gives a historical background to his life and of Germany ’s.

Goetz, Ronalad. “Anselm Kiefer: Art As Atonement.” Religion – Online. 23 – 3 March 1988.

  • The website is about Anselm Kiefer’s art and how he is influenced by the Holocaust. As an atonement for the Germany background, Kiefer hopes his viewers to forgive the history. The website also gives a brief overview of Kiefer’s biography.

“Guggenheim Collection – Neo Expressionism – Kiefer.” Guggenheim MUSEUM.

  • The website gives a thorough biography of Anselm Kiefer along with explanations and analyzations of his art works. It emphasizes Germany’s history, especially the Holocaust and how it affects and can be seen in Kiefer’s art works. A picture of Kiefer’s Seraphim is also included on the website.
“Kiefer: An artist with monumental force.” International Herald Tribune. 31 May 2007.
  • The website includes a newspaper article about the influence Kiefer has made as an artist reflecting on Germany’s past.
Kiefer, Anselm. The Seven Heavenly Palaces.
  • A picture of Anselm’s Kiefer’s artwork: The Seven Heavenly Palaces.
Saltzman, Lisa. Anselm Kiefer and Art After Auschwitz. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press; 1999.
  • Saltzman examines how Kiefer’s paintings relate to the aftermath of the Holocaust. As an artist who represents history, Kiefer explores the legacy of fascism. Kiefer’s art shows his life after the Holocaust as a witness to it.



Works Consulted

Espund, Lance. “Minimalism’s Mecca.” Modern Painters. Winter 2003: 66-67.

  • The magazine article is about the influences for this type of contemporary art. Minimalism comes from an artist’s point of view of life. Espund compares the techniques of minimalism and conceptualism. The purpose of minimalism is to include the artist’s background and ideas that would amaze the viewers.
Feaver, William. “The Great Dictators.” ARTnews Summer 2007: 178 – 181.
  • Great and famous artists draw portraits as a perception of themselves. Their paintings of themselves and others represent a part of the artist’s point of view. Artists add in details that of from their backgrounds along with their ideas to share with the viewers.
Kiefer, Anselm. Anselm Kiefer – Aperiatur Terra gallery tour. 2007. Youtube.com. 08 Aug. 2007.
  • Anselm Kiefer leads the audience of a tour of his exhibit at the Aperiatur Terra gallery. He explains his artworks, the techniques that he uses, and his inspirations.
Kimmelman, Michael. “Anselm Kiefer Explores And Confronts the Past.” Rev. of Marian Goodman Gallery. The New York Times 11 May 1990.
  • The article from the New York Times is a review of Kiefer’s exhibit in New York. It gives a brief overview of Anselm Kiefer’s background and inspirations, complimenting him on this gallery exhibit.
MacAdam, Barbara A.. “The New Abstraction.” ARTnews April 2007: 110 – 115.
  • Recently, there has been a revival in abstract art. Abstract art reflects the current status of the person for the present and the future. It is a way of self-expression and the current revolutions.
McQuaid, Cate. “Mammoth sculpture anchors Mass MoCA show.” Rev. of Etraits sont les Vaisseaux, Anselm Kiefer. The Boston Globe 4 Dec. 2007.
  • The article gives a positive review of Kiefer’s current exhibit at the Mass MoCA show. McQuaid describes Kiefer’s mammoth sculpture as the main artwork being displayed.
Rosenthal, Mark. Anselm Kiefer. Chicago and Philadelphia: The Art Institute of Chicago and Philadelphia Museum of Art; 1987.
  • The book examines Kiefer’s certain series of art from the beginning until 1987. Rosenthal examines the art in relation to the Holocaust and Germany’s tragic past.
Wilson, Jonathan. “Shades of Gray.” ARTnews April 2007: 34.
  • For music, it is necessary to use certain projections when it is being portrayed visually. For example, Mozart’s The Magic Flute uses certain symbols that represent the Enlightenment values. Each symbol has a certain reason as to why it is used in the piece of visual art.

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