Anselm Keifer and the Monumental
By Shay Harrelson
Anselm Keifer is a German artist, born two months before the German surrender in 1945, whose sculptures combine traditional materials—such as metal and plaster—with less traditional ones such as concrete, cloth, and plant life in monumental sculptures and installations, mainly dealing with the Holocaust and his life in Germany at the tail end of World War Two. While mainly known for his paintings, his sculptures’ use of multiple mediums and their sheer size makes them very unique, and are very successful—more so than his paintings in some respects, though they too are monumental in size—in the exploration of aforementioned topics.
One such work is Die Erdzeitalter (Ages of the World in English), which is a combination of metal, found objects, and thin concrete slabs, all stacked together precariously and is approximately 10 to 12 feet tall and wide (no exact dimensions found). An interesting feature of this work is that it is an installation in the center of the room with paintings of the sculpture surrounding it and so while the paintings are just in one medium, they amplify the sculpture’s depiction of time and history.
Large and monumental is definitely the name of the game with Keifer, one of the smallest sculptures he has, an untitled piece with the subtitle of Secret Life of Plants, is a painted and inscribed lead sculpture about three feet by four feet by four feet. With is desire to have Germans face their past that they are ashamed of, making his pieces extremely large serve to demand attention, the pieces cannot be pushed to the side and forgotten; their heavy weight, just like the country’s history, cannot be moved and must be faced if they want to continue on.
This combination of mediums is not limited to his sculptures, however, he also builds off his paintings, such as Von den Verlorenen gerührt, die der Glaube nicht trug, erwachen die Trommeln im Fluss (The drums in the river came alive, beaten by the lost ones, who were not supported by faith in English) a 14 by 25 foot piece wherein a large section of a concrete staircase is laid across the painting, which is partially covered by sand as well as the paint, sticking out by about three feet. While this may seem incongruous and a combination of mediums and objects that should not be combined, the colors and the use of sand on the canvas itself as well as the precarious and almost delicate placement of the staircase block work to bring the piece together.
This use of multiple mediums and unconventional and nontraditional items in works of art, the pushing of the boundaries of each medium and seeing how they interact and play off each other, really appeals to me as this is definitely what I enjoy doing in my own work and want to explore more (especially using nontraditional components such as organic matter and textiles), but maybe not on such a large scale as Keifer employs.
11/16/2016 04:05:20 pm
I think that Anselm Kiefer's work is very interesting, especially when you think about the way that he grew up in post WWII Germany. It is interesting that he seems to take on the guilt of what happened before he was even born to participate in it. I am also interested in the way that he uses scale and materials in order to create a sense of bleakness and destruction.
11/16/2016 06:01:13 pm
Kiefers work responding to a country coming to grips with a post WWII is interesting to me, especially in the context of deconstruction and thinking of the tearing down of the Berlin wall. His work seems to really highlight both the significant achievement of german design, architecture, art, engineering, industry, etc. through the use of material reference, but also carries with it a constant historical torment that will always be a scar visible to the outside world.
11/17/2016 11:53:54 am
Agh, I love Anslem Kiefer! There is something about German artists during the WWI and WWI eras. (Maybe I'm biased because I'm interested in my rather mysterious heritage.) The agony and despair of the German people came through in the works of artists such as Kiefer, Kathe Kollwitz, or Joseph Beuys. The work is emotionally charged, powerful and mythical. I also really enjoy watching interviews with the artist. He has some really interesting things to say about spirituality in "Over Your Cities Graw will Grow"... (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT_RGwJyjEU)
11/17/2016 07:01:27 pm
Without any reference by which to measure scale, Kiefer's work appears industrial and functional. The concept behind his work is pretty intense and the size makes it even more meaningful--like the size gives the meaning more weight. I look forward to seeing more of Kiefer's work.
11/17/2016 10:51:55 pm
I LOVE scale in sculpture, so I'm surprised I haven't heard of Keifer before, but this work is incredibly powerful. It's an interesting mechanic, to make things large for more than just an aesthetic reason-- to do so simply so people literally can't ignore it. I like that, as much as the work itself.
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