Thursday, October 2, 2014

Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy of Arts

In September 2014, the Royal Academy of Arts presented the first major retrospective of Anselm Kiefer’s work to be held in the UK. Considered to be one of the most important artists of his generation, the exhibition will span over forty years from Kiefer’s early career to the present time, bringing together artwork from international private and public collections. The exhibition will be arranged chronologically, presenting the epic scale of his artwork and the breadth of media he has used throughout his career, including painting, sculpture, photography and installation. Kiefer has also created a number of works conceived specifically for the Royal Academy’s Main Galleries, showcasing his continued interest in seeking new challenges and producing ever more ambitious artwork.

Kiefer’s fascination with history itself and with the work of past masters permeates his subject matter. From mythology, to the Old and New testaments, Kabbalah, alchemy, philosophy and the poetry of Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann, Kiefer’s work wrestles with the darkness of German history and considers the complex relationship between art and spirituality. His technical use of materials such as clay, ash, earth, lead, fabric and dried flowers amongst others, adds further symbolism and depth to his work.

The Orders of the Night (Die Orden der Nacht), 1996. Emulsion, acrylic and shellac on canvas, 356 x 463 cm Seattle Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard C. Hedreen. Photo © Seattle Art Museum / © Anselm Kiefer

Interior (Innenraum), 1981. Oil, acrylic, and paper on canvas, 287.5 x 311 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Photo Collection Stedelijk Museum / © Anselm Kiefer

Black Flakes (Schwarze Flocken), 2006. Oil, emulsion, acrylic, charcoal, lead books, branches and plaster on canvas, 330 x 570 cm. Private collection, c/o Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst. Photo Privatbesitz Famille Grothe / © Anselm Kiefer

Heroic Symbol V (Heroisches Sinnbild V), 1970. Oil on canvas, 150 x 260.5 cm. Collection Würth. Photo Collection Würth / © Anselm Kiefer

Winter Landscape (Winterlandschaft), 1970. Watercolour, gouache, and graphite pencil on paper, 42.9 x 35.6 cm. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, 1995 (1995.14.5). Photo © 2014. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence / © Anselm Kiefer 

Highlights of the exhibition include photographs and paintings from the controversial Occupations and Heroic Symbols (Heroische Sinnbilder) series of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These images record Kiefer’s re-enactment of the Nazi salute in locations across Europe, made in the belief that one must confront rather than supress the experiences of history. 

A series of paintings from Kiefer’s Attic series are also  exhibited, including 

Father, Son and the Holy Ghost (Vater, Sohn, Heiliger Geist), 1973 

and Notung, 1973 

depicting powerful renderings of wooden interior spaces based on the studio space that Kiefer was occupying in Walldürn-Hornbach in south-west Germany, which he has referred to as “a place to teach myself history.”

 The exhibition also features his monumental architectural paintings, such as 

To the Unknown Painter (Dem unbekannten Maler), 1983 that reflect on the neo-classicist buildings of Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, and the role of the artist in considering collective memory.

The exhibition considers the key themes and the diverse, personal iconography that Kiefer has created in his work over the years and will look at the influence of place on his oeuvre. As he said in a recent interview, “Art is an attempt to get to the very centre of truth. It never can, but it can get quite close.”

Other paintings on display include 

Palette on a Rope (Palette am Seil), 1971 

that uses the motif of the artist’s palette to represent Kiefer’s engagement with the facets of history, as well as a series of early watercolours including 

From Oscar Wilde (Von Oskar Wilde),1974 and 

Winter Landscape (Winterlandschaft), 1970 (above).

Anselm Kiefer will also present his celebrated lead books, including the paintings For Paul Celan, Ash Flowers (Für Paul Celan, Aschenblume), 2006 and Black Flakes (Schwarze Flocken), 2006. Kiefer’s new works for the exhibition will incorporate a number of large-scale paintings and sculptures, including a major installation for the Royal Academy’s courtyard.


Anselm Kiefer was born in 1945 in Donaueschingen, Germany. After studying law, he began his art education in Karlsruhe and then Düsseldorf, representing Germany at the 39th Venice Biennale in 1980. His work has been collected by and shown at major museums throughout the world including MoMA, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1987); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1991); The Metropolitan Museum, New York (1998); Fort Worth Museum of Art (2005); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006); Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark (2010); Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; the Grand Palais, Paris; The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2011) and Mass MoCA, Massachusetts (2013). In 2007 Kiefer became the first living artist to be commissioned to install a permanent work in the Louvre, Paris since Georges Braque some 50 years earlier. In this same year he created the first Monumenta installation for the Grand Palais, Paris. Kiefer has lived and worked in France since 1993. He was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1996 and was awarded the Praemium Imperiale in 1999. In 2005 he was presented with the Federal Cross of Merit, First Class, and the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art; in 2008 the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade; in 2011 a Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. 2010 saw his appointment at the Chair of Artistic Creation at the renowned Collège de France, Paris where he delivered nine lectures entitled Art will survive its ruins (Die Kunst geht knapp nicht unter).


Anselm Kiefer
has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts. The exhibition has been curated by Kathleen Soriano, Director of Exhibitions, Royal Academy of Arts, in close collaboration with Anselm Kiefer.


The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions from Richard Davey, Kathleen Soriano and Christian Weikop. 

Excellent article and review