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Anselm Kiefer

German, born 1945

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Anselm Kiefer was born in 1945 on the heels of World War II in Donaueschingen, southern Germany. In his art, he meditates on the relevance of history painting after the Holocaust. In the early 1970s, Kiefer studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Joseph Beuys (German, 1921 - 1986), a World War II veteran who was deeply interested in the power of art and its potential for cultural healing. Under Beuys's supervision and influence, and borrowing from the Expressionist tendencies and raw surfaces of Die Brücke (a group of Dresden-based artists formed in 1906 who sought to bridge Romanticism with Expressionism), Kiefer sought to exorcize the ghosts of the recent past with the language of contemporary art. Through the operatic scale of his monumental paintings and sculptures, which are rich in lyricism and irony, Kiefer contends that reconciliation with recent history is a necessary condition of the present moment.

With its high horizon line, the painting Nigredo demands confrontation with once-cultivated fields, burned and returned to their fallow state under a faint sun. Invoking the alchemical notion of nigredo--a state in which chemical elements are reduced and blackened in order to reach the mythical philosopher's stone, a material that alchemists believed could turn anything to gold--the painting embodies Kiefer's larger ideological and aesthetic view that intertwines destruction with creation. Kiefer layered paint and unrefined materials over an enlarged photograph to create a dramatically dense surface that matches the painting's imposing scale, both reimagining and obscuring the representation of a landscape.

In Kiefer's 1992 book Dein und Mein Alter und das Alter der Welt (Your Age and Mine and the Age of the World), images of ancient pyramid ruins conjure both the grandness of civilization and its vulnerability to disaster. In this work, he exposes a photographic image to his "inverted archaeology," layering sand and clay atop the image's surface as a paradoxical approach to reinterpreting depictions of the past. Throughout his extensive body of work, Kiefer continually explores past civilizations such as Egypt, seemingly in reference to Nazi Germany, restoring the tradition of history painting to the contemporary moment that demands new moral and artistic reflection.

Notations: Kiefer, Polke, Richter, 2007

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