Anselm Kiefer | Livres et Xylographies à la Fondation Jan Michalski

Anselm Kiefer Books and Woodcuts at The Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature

The Siegfried lineLa ligne Siegfried, 1982-2013. Collage de gravures sur bois, acrylique et gomme-laque sur papier, marouflé sur toile montée sur carton, 16 pages. 189 x 166 x 11 cm (fermé). Collection particulière. Copyrights © Anselm Kiefer Photo © Charles Duprat

“For a long time it was not clear if I would become a writer or an artist”

Anselm Kiefer

German artist and sculptor Anselm Kiefer is synonymous with vastness. His monumental paintings, structures and architectural installations have been seen at the Guggenheim, New York’s MoMA, the Louvre and Tate Modern. There’s a permanent installation at the Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan ‘The Seven Heavenly Palaces’where ginormous reinforced concrete towers loom up towards the celestial vault surrounded by five panoramic canvases. Their presence is overwhelming in a dark, cavernous hall of the former industrial plant. Not to mention his Gesamtkunstwerkor personal museum in Barjac, France, the artist’s home between 1993 and 2007 and still housing many of his mega-artworks across its 350,000 square metre site. Or the even larger studio in a former Samaritaine department store warehouse outside of Paris from where he now works.

Books, watercolours and woodcuts

Yet, it’s not all about size. As the artist himself has stated, ‘Scale is not the point. As an artist you go as far as your arm can reach, and this is my size, my temperament, my gesture’. Supporting these ambitious ventures is another more modest output from Kiefer’s repertoire. From now until 12thMay, The Jan Michalski Foundation reveals an intimate side to the artist’s oeuvre with a selection of small artists books, watercolours and woodcuts produced from 1969 to 2017. Organised in conjunction with Norway’s Astrup Fearnley Museet, the exhibition reasserts Kiefer’s literary expression as the basis for the artistic career which he subsequently pursued. Indeed, Kiefer hesitated between writing and painting, becoming an artist but maintaining the daily ritual of writing in a journal as an essential part of his process. Through these personal pieces, the viewer derives an insight into the intellectual thinking of one of the most significant and influential artists of the last 50 years. 

Für Jean GenetPour Jean Genet, 1969, pp. 4-5 Photographies noir et blanc, gouache, roses séchées, aquarelle sur papier et mine de plomb sur carton, relié, 10 pages. 49,5 x 35 x 5 cm (fermé). Collection particulière. Copyrights © Anselm Kiefer
Photo © Charles Duprat 

Kiefer was born shortly before the end of the Second World War in 1945 in the Black Forest town of Donaueschingen int he Catholic West. At a time characterized by division and struggle, a new generation of Germans were growing up in the aftermath of their nation’s recent traumatic events. If other German artists chose to turn away, Kiefer addressed his country’s history head-on. Once describing himself as ‘bringing to light things that are over, that are forgotten’, one of his more controversial photographic series saw the artist dressed in his father’s old military uniform in different locations performing the Nazi salute. It is represented in the exhibition in the 10-page ‘Für Jean Genet’from 1969. 

Mythology, history, culture, temporality

His art is informed by the relationship between man and nature, creation and destruction, monumentality and decay, heaven and earth, past, present and future. And about time.  It addresses Teutonic myth, history and culture – Kiefer has been called a history painter – and references such figures as Goethe and Richard Wagner and key events from German history. One of the larger pieces on show is the intense 1980/81 ‘Teutoburger Wald (Wege der Weltweisheit)’. Referencing iconic portraits of Teutonic intellectuals, thinkers and creators, it explores the legendary battle between Germanic tribes led by Arminius against the Romans.  A victorious outcome for the Germanic peoples, it’s a period in history held proudly in the cultural psyche of a country relentlessly associated with its sinister past. What is apparent is Kiefer’s will to conserve those valid, bygone milestones before the annihilating transgression of the Third Reich.

The viewer gains a sense of how artistic exploration served as a cathartic antidote for the unease of a nation but also for Kiefer’s own self-identity.  The cyclical nature and repetition of themes combined with an aesthetic materiality are his way of addressing and readdressing the past while synthesizing numerous influences including poetry and philosophy, Sumerian and Biblical stories, fairytales, Kabbalah and alchemy.  Photography is seen in his early books, increasingly adorned with drawing or watercolour and various miscellaneous materials. Photographic works of sunflowers are embedded with real seeds, others use hair, sand or ash, straw or dried flowers. They are geological connectors of time and Kiefer’s trademark embellishments, over-layering elemental texture on these one-off unwritten volumes. 

Driving away from the Foundation through wooded landscapes, these evocative images return; the Cedar forest, crop fields, Kiefer’s dark, earthy, psychological territories. They seep profoundly under the skin. 

Gilgamesch und Enkidu im Zedernwald I, Gilgamesh et Enkidu dans la forêt des cèdres I, 1981, première de couverture Acrylique et émulsion sur photographies noir et blanc montées sur carton, 40 pages. 60 x 45 x 11 cm (fermé). Collection particulière. Copyrights © Anselm Kiefer. Photo © Charles Duprat 
Das Rote Meer, La mer Rouge, 2014, pp. 12-13. Aquarelle et mine de plomb sur carton enduit de plâtre, 20 pages. 66 x 49,4 x 5 cm (fermé). Collection particulière. Copyrights © Anselm Kiefer. Photo © Charles Duprat 
Für Adalbert Stifter, Bergkristall, Pour Adalbert Stifter, Cristal de roche, 2015-2017. Collage de gravures sur bois, gomme-laque, charbon, fusain et plomb sur papier, marouflé sur toile, 330 x 190 cm. Courtesy Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Londres Paris Salzbourg. Copyrights © Anselm Kiefer. Photo © Charles Duprat 

Anselm Kiefer Books and Woodcuts
The Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature
Montricher, Switzerland
Until 12 May 2019

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© 2019