Monday, March 13, 2017

Anselm Kiefer: Controversial Artist

Anselm Kiefer

Born at the close of World War II, Anselm Kiefer reflects on and critiques the myths and chauvinism that propelled the German Third Reich to power. With Wagnerian scale and ambition, his paintings depict the ambivalence of his generation toward the grandiose impulse of German nationalism and its impact on history. Balancing the dual purposes of powerful imagery and critical analysis, Kiefer’s work is considered part of the neo-expressionist return to representation and personal reflection that came to define the 1980s. At that time, Kiefer was the centerpiece of a critical debate on the continued validity of painting, the ability of representation to heal deep historical wounds, and the legacy of fascism.
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Anselm Kiefer's monumental, often confrontational canvases were groundbreaking at a time when painting was considered all but dead as a medium. The artist is most known for his subject matter dealing with German history and myth, particularly as it relates to the Holocaust. These works forced his contemporaries to deal with Germany's past in an era when acknowledgment of Nazism was taboo. Kiefer incorporates heavy impasto and uncommon materials into his pieces, such as lead, glass shards, dried flowers, and strands of hay, many of which reference various aspects of history and myth, German and otherwise. Influenced by his contemporaries Joseph Beuys and Georg Baselitz, as well as by postwar tendencies in Abstract Expressionism and  Conceptual art, Kiefer is considered part of the Neo-Expressionist movement, which diverged from Minimalism and abstraction to develop new representational and symbolic languages.

Kiefer is a history painter in the traditional sense that his art often deals with themes related to German history and national identity, including Norse legend, Wagnerian opera, and the Holocaust. The latter was an attempt to bring the Nazi period to the forefront of national conversations, often causing controversy.

Kiefer's repertoire of imagery is wide ranging, incorporating representational and symbolic motifs, including sigils, occult icons, architectural interiors, and landscape elements to provoke an emotional and psychological effect on the viewer. Many of these make direct references to aspects of Germany's past, such as the forests that evoke famous battles or the fairytales of the Grimm Brothers.
Kiefer is drawn to various and often unusual media for their symbolic potency. Natural materials such as straw, earth, and tree roots reference both time and patterns of life, death, and decay. Lead also has resonance for the artist both as a medium and a subject matter. It was the base material used in alchemy and he considers it the only material heavy enough to bear the burden of history.

Derived from his interest in mythology, history, and knowledge, Kiefer often uses books as subject matter representing knowledge and civilization. Similarly, he frequently incorporates text into his paintings, including excerpts from poems, novels, and nationalist slogans as well as names of seminal figures, written in a scrawling script.


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Biography
Kiefer was born on March 8, 1945, in Donaueschingen, Germany, during the final months of World War II. The son of an art teacher, Kiefer was drawn to art and saw himself as an artist. He was raised in a Catholic home in the Black Forest near the eastern bank of the Rhine, an environment that would play a formative role in his development as an artist and would provide imagery and symbolism for his work. His family moved to Ottersdorf in 1951 and Kiefer attended grammar school in Rastatt.

Although he had artistic ambitions from an early age, Kiefer studied law and Romance languages between 1965 and 1966 at the Albert-Universitat, Freiberg. Soon thereafter he abandoned his aspiration to become a lawyer to focus solely on visual art, taking classes with the influential painter Peter Dreher at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildende Kunste in Karlsruhe. During this period, at the age of 24, he also traveled extensively throughout Europe.

Kiefer was part of a generation of Germans who felt the shame and guilt of the Holocaust, but had no personal experience of it. The artist has stated that the lack of discussion of World War II in school became a creative wellspring for him. He began his artistic career with a provocative photographic series titled Occupations (1969), which caused controversy because of its overt dealing with the Nazi past.

In 1970, Kiefer moved to Dusseldorf where he studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie and befriended the artist Joseph Beuys, who would have an enduring influence on Kiefer, as a mentor and informal teacher. Impressed by Kiefer's use of irony in reference to Germany's past, Beuys saw great potential in the young artist and urged him to explore painting. Kiefer switched from photography to other media as a result, and in 1971 he created his first large landscape paintings. Drawing largely from Beuys's conceptual approach and use of symbols, Kiefer began to develop his own unique representational language, focusing on evocative landscapes and interiors. He continued to explore themes of German history, culture, and mythology, depicting the country's rural pastures, while engaging with the legacies of Germany's artistic past, including the composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner and the Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich.

While Kiefer rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s in the midst of the Neo-Expressionist movement, his work continues to resonate with artists and audiences alike. His use of materials, influenced in part by Robert Rauschenberg's combines and the unconventionality of Art Brut and Arte Povera, brought a revitalized awareness of the symbolic use of everyday non-art resources in painting. This aspect of his practice rekindled interest in three-dimensional, many-layered canvases and encouraged later artists, such as Zhang Huan and Dan Colen, to experiment with materials to a greater extent.

Kiefer's dense compositions and austere subjects have had an enduring impact on artists who explore themes of war, memory, and loss in a range of media, from painters William Kentridge, Stephen Barclay, and Christopher Bramham to photographers Zoe Strauss and Jyrki Parantainen and installation artist Christian Boltanski. Ever teetering on the edge between abstraction and figuration, Kiefer uses a distinctly poetic, psychological style to convey heady social and political issues, abandoning the cold aesthetics of Minimalism and Conceptual art in favor of a more redolent, painterly, and moralistic visual language. Along with his contemporaries Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter, he has succeeded in bringing social issues to the forefront of contemporary discussions, forcing Germany to reckon with its horrific past.
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Anselm Kiefer's monumental, often confrontational canvases were groundbreaking at a time when painting was considered all but dead as a medium. The artist is most known for his subject matter dealing with German history and myth, particularly as it relates to the Holocaust. These works forced his contemporaries to deal with Germany's past in an era when acknowledgment of Nazism was taboo. Kiefer incorporates heavy impasto and uncommon materials into his pieces, such as lead, glass shards, dried flowers, and strands of hay, many of which reference various aspects of history and myth, German and otherwise. Influenced by his contemporaries Joseph Beuys and Georg Baselitz, as well as by postwar tendencies in Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual art, Kiefer is considered part of the Neo-Expressionist movement, which diverged from Minimalism and abstraction to develop new representational and symbolic languages.

Kiefer is a history painter in the traditional sense that his art often deals with themes related to German history and national identity, including Norse legend, Wagnerian opera, and the Holocaust. The latter was an attempt to bring the Nazi period to the forefront of national conversations, often causing controversy.

Kiefer's repertoire of imagery is wide ranging, incorporating representational and symbolic motifs, including sigils, occult icons, architectural interiors, and landscape elements to provoke an emotional and psychological effect on the viewer. Many of these make direct references to aspects of Germany's past, such as the forests that evoke famous battles or the fairytales of the Grimm Brothers.
Kiefer is drawn to various and often unusual media for their symbolic potency. Natural materials such as straw, earth, and tree roots reference both time and patterns of life, death, and decay. Lead also has resonance for the artist both as a medium and a subject matter. It was the base material used in alchemy and he considers it the only material heavy enough to bear the burden of history.
Derived from his interest in mythology, history, and knowledge, Kiefer often uses books as subject matter representing knowledge and civilization. Similarly, he frequently incorporates text into his paintings, including excerpts from poems, novels, and nationalist slogans as well as names of seminal figures, written in a scrawling script.
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Quotes by Anselm Kiefer
Art is difficult. It's not entertainment. There are only a few people who can say something about art - it's very restricted. When I see a new artist I give myself a lot of time to reflect and decide whether it's art or not. Buying art is not understanding art.
I believe art has to take responsibility but it should not give up being art.
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Artwork by Anselm Kiefer



















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