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Anselm Kiefer: Punctum - A Journey into Photographic Alchemy.

Gagosian is currently presenting "Punctum," a groundbreaking exhibition that marks the first time Anselm Kiefer's photography will be showcased exclusively in the United States. From April 25 through July 3, 2024, at 976 Madison Avenue, viewers are invited to explore the lesser-known yet profoundly impactful facet of Kiefer's artistic legacy.

Since 1968, when he first picked up his father’s 35mm camera, photography has been a silent yet potent force in Kiefer's creative process. This medium has not only influenced his monumental paintings but also played a crucial role in his artist books. "Punctum" uncovers these hidden layers, offering fresh perspectives on his innovative use of materials and his exploration of photography's symbolic and expressive potentials.

The exhibition's title, "Punctum," is drawn from Roland Barthes' influential text Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1980). In Barthes' terms, "punctum" refers to a poignant detail within a photograph that pierces the viewer's consciousness, evoking a personal, emotional reaction that transcends cultural interpretations. Kiefer's photographs masterfully capture this essence, evoking memories of events that feel both vivid and imaginary.

Returning to his recurring themes of ruin and rebirth, Kiefer’s photographs in "Punctum" highlight subjects ranging from serene sunflowers and snowy landscapes to complex urban scenes. Notable works such as "Merkaba" (2010–13 and 2010–15) and "Jericho" (2010–15) depict the iconic tower sculptures at La Ribaute, his former studio in Barjac, France, now part of his Eschaton foundation. These images underscore the continuity of Kiefer’s thematic exploration across different mediums.

Kiefer’s approach to photography is as experimental as his broader oeuvre. Techniques like solarization and the application of metals transform his photographs both physically and metaphorically. In "Osiris" (1985–91), he applies heavy lead to the upper portion of the photograph, creating a stark contrast that evokes the alchemical process. Similarly, works such as "Feldblumen (Wildflowers)" and "Ukraine" (both 1994–2012) utilize silver toner to blur the lines between photography and painting, merging the two into a seamless visual experience.

"Der gestirnte Himmel über uns und das moralische Gesetz in uns (The moral law within us, the starry heavens above us)" (1969–2009) revisits an image from Kiefer’s provocative "Besetzungen (Occupations)" series. In this piece, Kiefer overlays a starry sky painted in gouache above a photograph, invoking Immanuel Kant's philosophical reflection on the cosmic and the moral.

One of the most evocative pieces in the exhibition, "Hero und Leander" (2012), embodies Kiefer’s relationship with photography. This vitrine sculpture features a metal bathtub, the kind he used for developing his early photos, filled with coiled strips of photographic prints mounted on lead. The title references the tragic Greek myth of Hero and Leander, adding a layer of mythic resonance to the work.

"Punctum" follows the success of "La photographie au commencement (Photography at the Beginning)," the first retrospective focused on Kiefer’s photographic work, held at LaM in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France (2023–24). It also coincides with "Angeli caduti (Fallen Angels)" at Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy, on view through July 21, 2024.

This exhibition is an unmissable journey into the alchemical heart of Anselm Kiefer’s art. It promises to transform how we perceive the photographic medium, offering a profound exploration of memory, materiality, and the poetic resonance of images.


Words by AW.

Photo by Owen Conway.


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