- ARTIST ROOMS: Anselm Kiefer
Matthew Gale, Head of Displays at Tate, and Lucy Askew, Managing Curator – ARTIST ROOMS, discuss themes in the works of Anselm Kiefer, whose works form part of the ARTIST ROOMS collection jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.
A key figure in European post-war culture, Anselm Kiefer’s art derives from his great awareness of history, theology, mythology, literature and philosophy, and his exploration of a range of materials such as lead, concrete, straw, clay, flowers and seeds.
Kiefer grew up in Germany close to the French border on the Rhine and looked to France as his spiritual home. His early work was influenced by Joseph Beuys and in the context of the immediate post-war period, Kiefer set out to understand Germany’s recent history, then still a taboo subject.
In later work, the artist drew on German military history, Wagnerian mythology and Nazi architecture to grapple with the possibility of pursuing creativity in the light of catastrophic human suffering. Kiefer’s technique of layering paint and debris gives visceral life to his preoccupations with decay and re-creation.
After the reunification of Germany Kiefer moved to Barjac, a small town in the South of France, developing and widening his preoccupations. His study of ancient belief-systems such as the Kabbala and travel to South America, India, China and Australia expanded his interests to a cosmic view of the world. In Barjac he was able to work on an even larger scale and confronted with the natural world, became interested in theories about the lives of plants, the microcosm and macrocosm, and the concept that for every plant there exists a correlated star.
ARTIST ROOMS includes works made across the artist’s career. Palette is one of a series of works in which Kiefer has equated painting with burning, which cleanses the countryside and is intended to cauterise the wound inflicted by Nazism. Urd, Werdande, Skuld refers to the Norns or Fates of Germanic mythology, while Man under a Pyramid reflects the artist’s interest in exploring the mind and body through meditation. The title of Cette obscure clarté qui tombe des étoiles (The dark light that falls from the stars) takes a line from Le Cid by Corneille which came to mind when Kiefer began to work with sunflowers: "There was an obvious parallel with the black seeds on the flower and the night and the stars. The seeds were the stars. When I stuck them on a white canvas they became inverted stars, black on white like a negative." The huge installation Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday), refers to the Christian holy day and suggests the balance between death and resurrection, decay and recreation so characteristic of Kiefer’s work.