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Could The World’s Best Living Painter Be Anselm Kiefer?

March 31, 2008

Although I have been familiar with Kiefer’s work for as long as I can remember, it wasn’t until about 20 years ago, that I saw one “in the flesh.” As I walked into the museum gallery and caught sight of the only Kiefer painting the museum owned, I felt like I was being whacked over the head with visual imagery so powerful I took a step backwards. After regaining my composure, I realized how much I was drawn to closely examine the thick pigmented surfaces filled with straw, ash, lead, sand, photographs and other “objects” most of us would consider detritus. His paintings are “3 dimensional,” bridging the gap between painting and sculpture (although he does create free standing sculpture as well). And the size: the usually massive canvasses, some in the 12 feet high x 18 feet wide range fill the wall with epic elegies to the human condition, often with symbolic themes from Germany’s horrific Nazi past. He was born in Germany in 1945 just as the Third Reich was falling and like many German artists he seems to – almost single-handedly – be carrying the awful weight of his country’s (recent) history.

Kiefer is a reclusive man, sometimes bordering on the monastic as he has on occasion disappeared from the art world, returning again with no apparent detriment to his work. He has been living in France since 1994 and maybe that has allowed him to move away from his Teutonic focus; his more recent paintings deal with mythological, classical, and biblical subject matter as well as Jewish mysticism. And from 1995 to 2001, he started a cycle of large paintings of the cosmos as well as working on sculpture.

In a review of Kiefer’s 2005 exhibition at White Cube’s temporary annex in London, Adrian Searle writes in “The Guardian,” that “Kiefer’s art is as ambitious as it is magnificently grandiose, uncomfortable and brooding. His work is as deeply troubling as it is impressive–and that is as it should be.”

Copyright © 2008

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