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Anselm Kiefer

German Painter, Sculptor, Photographer, and Installation Artist

Anselm Kiefer Photo
Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: March 8, 1945 - Donaueschingen, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany

"I believe art has to take responsibility but it should not give up being art."

Anselm Kiefer Signature

Summary of Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer's monumental, often confrontational canvases were groundbreaking at a time when painting was considered all but dead as a medium. The artist is most known for his subject matter dealing with German history and myth, particularly as it relates to the Holocaust. These works forced his contemporaries to deal with Germany's past in an era when acknowledgment of Nazism was taboo. Kiefer incorporates heavy impasto and uncommon materials into his pieces, such as lead, glass shards, dried flowers, and strands of hay, many of which reference various aspects of history and myth, German and otherwise. Influenced by his contemporaries Joseph Beuys and Georg Baselitz, as well as by postwar tendencies in Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual art, Kiefer is considered part of the Neo-Expressionist movement, which diverged from Minimalism and abstraction to develop new representational and symbolic languages.

Key Ideas

Kiefer is a history painter in the traditional sense that his art often deals with themes related to German history and national identity, including Norse legend, Wagnerian opera, and the Holocaust. The latter was an attempt to bring the Nazi period to the forefront of national conversations, often causing controversy.
Kiefer's repertoire of imagery is wide ranging, incorporating representational and symbolic motifs, including sigils, occult icons, architectural interiors, and landscape elements to provoke an emotional and psychological effect on the viewer. Many of these make direct references to aspects of Germany's past, such as the forests that evoke famous battles or the fairytales of the Grimm Brothers.
Kiefer is drawn to various and often unusual media for their symbolic potency. Natural materials such as straw, earth, and tree roots reference both time and patterns of life, death, and decay. Lead also has resonance for the artist both as a medium and a subject matter. It was the base material used in alchemy and he considers it the only material heavy enough to bear the burden of history.
Derived from his interest in mythology, history, and knowledge, Kiefer often uses books as subject matter representing knowledge and civilization. Similarly, he frequently incorporates text into his paintings, including excerpts from poems, novels, and nationalist slogans as well as names of seminal figures, written in a scrawling script.
Anselm Kiefer Photo

Kiefer was born on March 8, 1945 during the final months of World War II. The son of an art teacher, Kiefer was drawn to art and saw himself as an artist. He was raised in a Catholic home in the Black Forest near the eastern bank of the Rhine, an environment that would play a formative role in his development as an artist and would provide imagery and symbolism for his work. His family moved to Ottersdorf in 1951 and Kiefer attended grammar school in Rastatt.

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