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Anselm Kiefer: Art Beyond Labels and Categories.

What does it mean to be an artist? Is it about deepening the mysteries of existence, casting a veil over the invisible, creating order from chaos, or perhaps dusting away the grime of our everyday lives? For Anselm Kiefer, it seems to be all these things and more. His art defies easy categorization, transcending stylistic boundaries to deliver a profound, tangible impact that resonates both physically and intellectually.

Kiefer's work is a labyrinth of epic paintings, three-dimensional constructs, and a cacophony of materials, texts, and words. His pieces exude an apocalyptic aura, intensified by his fascination with arcane systems of knowledge, historical events, ancient myths, abstract mathematics, philosophy, string theory, astronomy, and alchemy. The titles of his artworks are as allusive as the works themselves, merging disparate realms of thought into a singular vision.


My first encounter with Kiefer's art, specifically "To the Unknown Painter" at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, left me awestruck. It was as if something deep within my DNA resonated with his work, forging a sense of profound connection. As I delved further into Kiefer's background and explored more of his creations, I found myself drawn into his artistic matrix—a web of interconnected worlds that continually enriched my experience.

Encountering Kiefer's art in person feels like being struck by an electric charge, awakening primal instincts buried within our subconscious. His alchemical approach weaves a veil, giving form to abstract concepts that, through his lens, suddenly make perfect sense. Yet, articulating these concepts in concrete words remains a daunting task. Kiefer's art not only deepens our understanding of historical events but also invites us to explore the cosmic significance of everyday objects, like sunflowers, and to decipher the hidden knowledge embedded within the materials he employs.


Born in 1945, Kiefer is part of a generation of German post-war artists tasked with confronting the darker chapters of their nation's history, particularly the collective guilt associated with the Third Reich. His early career was marked by provocative and confrontational works aimed at breaking the silence surrounding this trauma. It was during this period that he came under the mentorship of Joseph Beuys, a fellow provocateur known for his experimental contributions to various artistic disciplines.


Kiefer's artistic journey transcended Germany's historical baggage to encompass the broader tapestry of human history and the rituals of remembrance. He delved into the interpretation of Kabbalistic and religious concepts, drawing from his deep affinity for books and literature. His works often feature handwritten references and quotes, offering both context and juxtaposition.

In the 1980s and subsequent decades, Kiefer's exploration expanded to encompass themes such as the perceived and actual limitations of humanity, as well as a profound focus on the botanical world. His works span the spectrum from personal writings to large-scale pieces, all brimming with fascination.


Surprisingly, for someone whose art is so enigmatic, Kiefer is incredibly down-to-earth and accessible in conversation. He describes how inspiration strikes him in images and metaphors, which he then refines into poems to serve as the foundation when his artistic endeavors lead him into the boundless realms of his wildly associative thinking.


Navigating Kiefer's cosmos can be overwhelming due to its sheer diversity, complexity, and symbolism. Some works remain "works in progress," and the unorthodox materials he employs play a pivotal role. These highly textured and tactile materials are imbued with intent, meant to interact, disintegrate, and eventually dissolve.


If there is a unifying thread in Kiefer's artistic explorations, it is his unwavering desire to merge the individual with the cosmos through osmosis. His works strive to culminate in a complex whole that transcends the sum of its individual components—a synthesis that speaks to something greater than the mere physicality of art.


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Words by AW.

Photos courtesy of Galleries Thaddaeus Ropac.

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