The Royal Academy in London is mounting a major a retrospective exhibition of the artist Anselm Kiefer who has made it his life’s work to confront the dark pre and post-war past of his native Germany, wrestling with its moral inheritances. Massive paintings, artist’s books, drawings, photographs, watercolours, sculptures and installations, will be presented by this 20/21st century giant.
It may seem surprising that this is the first major retrospective of Kiefer’s work held in the UK. The German artist’s thickly textured, mixed medium paintings are powerful reminders of just how strong his influence has been on modern art today. There will be early work from his student years right up to the present. Kiefer who is an honorary Royal Academician exhibits most years at the Royal Academy during its highly popular summer exhibition. Following in the Royal Academy’s tradition of celebrating its artist members with single artist shows, this exhibition will present Anselm Kiefer as an artist who continues to seek new challenges and produce ever more ambitious work, including pieces conceived specifically for the Royal Academy’s galleries.
After studying law, and Romance languages and literature, Kiefer devoted himself entirely to painting. He attended the School of Fine Arts at Fribourg-in-Brisgau, then the Art Academy in Karlsruhe, while maintaining contact with Joseph Beuys, but soon began to develop his own deliberately indigenous set of subjects and symbols that he used to explore the fraught territory of German history and identity. In his muscular artistic language, physical materiality and visual complexity enliven his themes and content with a rich, vibrant tactility. His subject-matter ranges from sources as diverse as Teutonic Mythology and history, alchemy and the nature of belief, all depicted in a bewildering variety of materials, including oil paint, dirt, lead, photography, woodcuts, sand, straw and all manner of organic material. By adding found materials to the painted surface of his immense tableaux, he invents a compelling third space between painting and sculpture. Recent work has broadened his range yet further, and in 2005 he showed a series of paintings based around the little-known work of the modernist poet Velimir Chlebnikov (1885-1922). Few contemporary artists match Kiefer’s epic reach, and his work consistently balances powerful imagery with acute critical analysis.
Anselm Kiefer was born in Donaueschingen, Germany in 1945. He has lived and worked in France since 1993. He has exhibited widely, including solo shows at MoMA, New York (1987); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1991); The Metropolitan Museum, New York (1998); Royal Academy, London (2001); Fort Worth Museum of Art (2005); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006); Mass MoCA, Massachusetts; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; the Grand Palais, Paris and the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2007); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark (2010) and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2011). In 2007 Kiefer became the first artist to be commissioned to install a permanent work at the Louvre, Paris since Georges Braque some 50 years earlier. In 2009 he created an opera, Am Anfang, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Opéra National de Paris. In November 2011 he opened ‘Shevirat Ha-Kelim’ at the Tel Aviv Art Museum, the inaugural exhibition in the Herta and Paul Amir Building.
Anselm Kiefer: Royal Academy of Arts, London, 27 September to 14 December