Anselm Kiefer - Artist's portrait - Image via handelsblattcom

Anselm Kiefer/ Anselm Kiefer

Germany 1945


Anselm Kiefer
Anselm Kiefer

Dealing with the themes of German history and national identity, Norse myth, Kabbalah and Egyptian gods, Anselm Kiefer chooses to work in a complex personal cosmology creating pieces that incorporate heavy impasto and unusual materials, such as lead, dried flowers, strands of hay or glass shards emphasizing their symbolical potency. Particularly indicating the idea of Holocaust and Nazi period, his works often caused controversy. The main influences came from his contemporaries Joseph Beuys and Georg Baselitz, postwar tendencies in Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual art, but Kiefer is most regarded as an exponent of the Neo-Expressionism derived from Minimalism and abstraction, advocating representational and symbolic visual language. His imagery incorporates sigils, occult icons, both landscapes and architectural interiors, making direct references to the German past with the aim of provoking the emotional and psychological reaction of the viewer. Interested in knowledge, Kiefer often uses literature, implementing text into paintings, like verses from the poems, lines from novels and nationalist slogans or seminal names written in a scrawling script.

 media plan for installation oh Kiefer Anselm
Anselm Kiefer – Nothung, 1973 – Image via

Post-war Influences and the First Controversial Exhibition

Kiefer was born in 1945 in Danaueschingen, couple of months before the end of the World War II. His family moved to Ottersdorf where he finished high school and entered the University of Freiburg where he studied Law and Romance languages. As a son of an art teacher, Kiefer early showed an interest in art. Growing up in a Catholic home in the picturesque surroundings of the Black Forest near the eastern bank of the Rhine, these environments probably played an important formative role in his later artistic development, providing imagery for his work. Changing the Romance language and Law studies for art, Kiefer moved first in Freiburg, then Karlsruhe and later Dusseldorf attending the Art Academies. As a part of the postwar generation that felt the shame of the Holocaust and Nazi’s misdeeds, the lack of discussion about this themes in school encouraged him to show his thoughts through his creative expression. Beginning with the photography and performances, his first project occurred in France, Switzerland, and Italy where he, in paramilitary costume imitated the Nazi salute, addressing the Germans to remember and question the losses which were the result of the xenophobia of the Third Reich. These photographs were collected in the series Occupations which were the subject of his first solo exhibition held in 1969 at Galerie am Kaiserplatz in Karlsruhe, causing the controversy because of the content cluttered with the political past. In 1970, Kiefer moved to Dusseldorf to study at the Staatliche Kunstakademie where he met artist Joseph Beuys, his mentor and teacher who made the crucial influence on him. Enthusiastic about Anselm Kiefer’s ironical references to German history, Beuys saw the great potential in the young artist, encouraging him to explore painting[1]. His first large landscape painting emerged in 1971, representing the beginnings of his later distinctive visual language. Remaining focused on the same themes, Kiefer started to work with glass, wood, straw and plant parts as the reminiscence of their transience and fragility. During this period, Anselm Kiefer met painter Georg Baselitz who became his patron and someone whom he would collaborate with for a long time. He encouraged him to continue to work on his seminal early series of a provocative subject matter by purchasing some of his paintings.

Series Occupations were the subject of his first solo exhibition held in 1969 at Galerie am Kaiserplatz in Karlsruhe

 Kiefer Anselm has a modern german home
Anselm Kiefer – Occupations, 1969 (Left) / Caspar David Friedrich – Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818 (Right) – Images via

Embracing the Jewish Mysticism and Occult Symbolism

Traveling to Europe, the United States, and the Middle East, Anselm Kiefer has expanded his views, discovering new interests in mythology and religion, starting to implement motifs of Jewish mysticism and Egyptian hieroglyphic symbolism into his works and embracing sculpture and woodcuts beside painting and photography[2]. The 1980’s were characterized by his use of new materials with ephemeral qualities, such as flowers, straw, or ash while early exploited lead became more dominant, due to his purchase of the lead roof from a Cologne cathedral when the replacement was done. In accordance with the rise of Neo-Expressionism, Kiefer gained international fame and in 1980, along with Baselitz, represented Germany at the Venice Biennale. It was a very important decision that confirmed this movement and forced the country to accept the themes of recent history in artistic dialogue. Series of paintings emerged between 1980 and 1983 represented stone constructions as a pictorial support to famous examples of National Socialist architecture designed by Albert Speer and Wilhelm Kreis. Moving his focus toward more general subject matter in the terms of the whole civilization, his work simultaneously became more sculptural and imbued with mysticism and theology. During the 1990’s he has been completely devoted to the exploration of the deeper meaning of life and the universal myth of existence which was followed by a cycle of monumental paintings of the cosmos. In the meantime, the artist moved from the small town near Frankfurt to Bajrac in France where he built a studio in an abandoned silk factory, successively transforming the space into a Gesamtkunstwerk, with tunnels, towers, and buildings. From 2002, he once again adopted a new material, this time concrete, creating the series based on the Russian Futurist poet Velimir Chlebnikov, inventor of the “language of the future” called “Zaum” and also reviving the use of writings of the Romanian poet Paul Celan who was present in his earlier oeuvre[3]. His great exhibition Velimir Chlebnikov held in 2006, consisted of thirty monumental paintings hanged in two inclinations of a corrugated steel building, resembling the studio in which they were created.

Anselm Kiefer has been completely devoted to the exploration of deeper meaning of life and universal myth of existence

 conntact Anselm Kiefer and use this terms for media
Anselm Kiefer – Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, 1998 – Image via

Selected Works

His first body of work, Occupations (1969), Kiefer created series of self-portraits, photographing himself faced with the history of Nazi Germany. Saluting in his father’s uniform, he took the pictures in different politically significant locations in Switzerland, Italy, and France, like national monuments and ancient ruins. Inspired by the painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) by the German artist David Caspar Friedrich, Kiefer’s human figure dominates the landscape connecting two periods of German history, the imperialist ideas of the early 19th century manipulated by the Third Reich that lead to the Holocaust. This work was faced with the negative criticism of his colleagues and a wider public.

Shevirat Ha-Kelim or Breaking of the Vessels (1990) is his sculptural work, inspired by Kabbalah, Jewish mystical writings that describe the attributes of God as divided among ten vessels that were too weak to support them. When they broke, only the virtues of Will, Wisdom and Understanding remained and the others left out into the world outside God’s control. Symbolizing the introduction of evil and the human condition into the world, the sculpture is a 17-foot-tall bookshelf loaded with 41 oversized different books decorated with the broken glass and the spirit of the God above represented with the inscription Ain-Sof which means the infinite on Hebrew. The ten vessels of the divine essence are in the form of the lead markers attached to the shelf. Resolving the multiple meanings of this sculptural piece, it could be a metaphor for the human tragedy and the cycle of rebirth, but also indicates the strength of the Jewish tradition that has been threatened throughout history.

This work is a metaphor for the human tragedy and the cycle of rebirth, but also indicates the strength of the Jewish tradition that has been threatened throughout history

 Anselm Kiefer has a plan for modern installation and Anselm Kiefer is searching gallery contact
Anselm Kiefer – Shevirat Ha-Kelim or Breaking of the Vessels, 2006 – Image via

Legacy of Anselm Kiefer

Appearing as an exponent of the Neo-Expressionism when the painting was considered to be overdated medium, Kiefer brought the innovative point of view by using the materials partially borrowed from Robert Rauschenberg’s combines and unconventionality of Art Brut and Arte Povera in a combination with symbolism and mysticism, deeply imbued with historical references. His approach revived the interest in three-dimensional, multi-layered canvases, inspiring future generations of artists to adopt and freely experiment with new materials. What at the first glance seemed like simple landscape, actually was a very complex depiction of morbid past of one nation and its regime. These compositions had an impact on artists who explore the theme of war and memory. Always somewhere between abstraction and figuration, Kiefer’s poetic and deeply psychological approach discusses hard social issues that are, thanks to him and his contemporaries, such as Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter, brought into the discussion, forcing Germany to face its terrible past. Since his first solo exhibition in 1969, Kiefer’s work has been exhibited in numerous group and solo shows across the globe. It is as also a part of several public collections, including the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Detroit Institute of Arts, The Tate Modern, London, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Albertina in Vienna[4], among the others. In 1990, he was the recipient of the Wolf Prize and nine years later, the Japan Art Association awarded him the Praemium Imperiale for his lifetime achievements.

The artist is represented by Gagosian Gallery in New York, Bevery Hills, and London, White Cube Bermondey, White Cube Mason’s Yard, and White Cube London.

Anselm Kiefer lives and works in Paris, France.


  1. Baqué, D. Anselm Kiefer: A Monograph, Thames & Hudson, 2016
  2. Davey, R., Soriano, K., Weikop, C. Anselm Kiefer, Royal Academy Books, 2015
  3. Schimmel, P. Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, Skira Rizzoli, 2012
  4. Anonymous, Anselm Kiefer, Wikipedia [September 2, 2016]

Featured image: Anselm Kiefer – Artist’s portrait – Image via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016A Visit with Old Friends: Selections from the Lannan CollectionLannan Foundation, Santa Fe, NMGroup
2016Elective Affinities - German Art Since the Late 1960sLatvian National Museum of Arts, RigaGroup
2016Embracing the Contemporary: The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs CollectionPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PAGroup
2016Excitement - exhibition by Rudi FuchsStedelijk Museum Amsterdam, AmsterdamGroup
2016Anselm Kiefer - Die HolzschnitteAlbertina, ViennaSolo
2016The Sonnabend Collection: Meio Século De Arte Europeia E Americana. Part 1Museu Serralves - Museu de Arte Contemporânea, PortoGroup
2016Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection - From Shōhaku and Rosanjin to Anselm Kiefer Yokohama Museum of Art, Nishi-ku, Yokohaman2015Group
2016Freundschaftsspiel Istanbul : FreiburgMuseum für Neue Kunst, FreiburgGroup
2015Space AgeGalerie Thaddaeus Ropac - Paris, ParisGroup
2015Anselm Kiefer - Centre PompidouMusée National d'Art Moderne, ParisSolo
2015Anselm Kiefer - PaintingsSão Paulo, São PauloSolo
2015Anselm Kiefer - Im Gewitter Der RosenGalerie Thaddaeus Ropac - Salzburg, SalzburgSolo
2015La Collection Lambert - Un Nouveau RegardCollection Lambert, AvignonGroup
2015The World is Made of Stories Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, OsloGroup
2014Anselm Kiefer Royal Academy of Arts, London, EnglandSolo
2013Un Maestro de la PinturaMuseum of Contemporary Art, Gas Natural Fenosa, A CoruñaGroup
2013Der RheinGalerie Bastian, BerlinGroup
2013UntitledARCO Madrid, SpainnGroup
2012ExpositionGalleria Lia Rumma, MilanGroup
2012Let a Thousand Flowers BloomWhite Cube Hong KongGroup
2011Salt of the EarthFondazione Vedova, VeniceGroup
2011Anselm Kiefer: Il Mistero delle Cattedrali White Cube, LondonGroup
2010Anselm Kiefer: Artist RoomsBaltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UKGroup
2010Anselm Kiefer dans la Collection WürthMusée Würth France ErsteinGroup
2009Works from the Grothe CollectionEs Baluard Museum of Art, Palma de Mallorca, SpainGroup
2009Sculpture in the CloseJesus College, Cambridge, EnglandGroup
2008–2009nMediations Biennale1st International Biennale of Contemporary Art, Poznan, Poland, 3 October – 3 January 2009Group
2008Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) Between Impressionism and ExpressionismMusée d’Orsay, ParisGroup
2008PalmsonntagGagosian Gallery, Los AngelesSolo
2008Blood on Paper: the Art of the BookVictoria & Albert Museum, London, EnglandGroup
2008Maria Walks Amid the ThornGalerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, 24 July – 23 AugustGroup
2008Kiefer e Mao Che mille fiori fioriscanoTriennial Bovisa, MilanGroup
2007MONUMENTA 2007: Anselm KieferGrand Palais, ParisSolo
2007Anselm KieferGuggenheim Museum Bilbao, BilbaoSolo
2007Anselm Kiefer: Aperiatur TerraWhite Cube Mason's Yard, London; Art Gallery of New South Wales, SydneySolo
2006Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and EarthModern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth; Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Canada; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San FranciscoSolo
2006The Spirit of WhiteGalerie Beyeler, SwitzerlandGroup
2006Marinen in KonfrontationMuseum fur Moderne Kunst, OostendeGroup
2006Anselm Kiefer: Velimir ChlebnikovThe Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT.Solo
2006Für Paul CelanYvon Lambert Paris, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, ParisSolo
2006Richard Wagner: Artistic Visions From Auguste Renoir to Anselm KieferMusee Rath, Geneva, SwitzerlandSolo
2006Recaptured NatureMarian Goodman Gallery, New YorkGroup
2005–2007nAnselm Kiefer: Heaven and EarthModern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX. Traveled to: the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA. Group
2005Anselm Kiefer: Für Paul CelanGalerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria.Group
2005Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and EarthModern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TexasSolo
2005Flower Myth: From Van Gogh to Jeff KoonsFoundation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland.Group
2005Contemporary Voices: Works from The UBS Art CollectionMuseum of Modern Art, New York.Group
2005Anselm Kiefer: for Khlebnikov White Cube Gallery, London. Traveled to: The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CTSolo
2004Kunst aus amerikanischer SichtStadel, German Art. Frankfurt, Germany.Group
2004UntitledMuseo Archeologico Nazionale. Naples, ItalySolo
2004I sette palazzi CelestiHangar Bicocca, Fondazione Pirelli, MilanSolo
2003Expressiv!Fondation Beyeler, Basel.Group
2003Anselm Kiefer - Am AnfangGalerie Thaddaeus Ropac. SalzburgSolo
2003Recaptured Nature.Marian Goodman Gallery. New York, NY.Group
2003Marinen in KonfrontationMuseum fur Moderne Kunst. Oostende.Group
2002MerkabaGagosian Gallery. New York, NYSolo
2002Warhol to KoonsScottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Edinburgh.Group
2002UntitledMusikfestival SalzburgSolo
2002La Vie Secrète des PlantesGalerie Yvon Lambert. Paris, FranceSolo
2001Lasst tausend Blumen blühenLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, HumlebaekSolo
2001UntitledLes Reines de France, Le Rectangle, LyonSolo
2001Anselm Kiefer - The Seven Heavenly Palaces 1973 - 2001. Fondation Beyeler. BaselSolo
2001UntitledKukje Gallery, SéoulSolo
2000Chevirat Ha-Kelim. Chapelle de la SalpétrièreParis, FranceSolo
2000UntitledNational Gallery. London, UKSolo
1999UntitledStedelijk Museum veor Actuele Kunst, Gent, BelgiumGroup
1999Die Frauen der AntikeGalerie Yvon Lambert, ParisSolo
1998UntitledGaleria Camargo Vilaça, São PauloSolo
1998Dein und mein Alter und das Alter der WeltGagosian Gallery, New YorkSolo
1997UntitledBiennale di Venezia, VenezianSolo
1997Himmel-ErdeMuseo Correr. Venice, ItalySolo
1996Anselm KieferCentro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico CitySolo
1995Tag um Tag = 30 Jahre – Ehemalige der Klasse Peter Dreher“Museum für Neue KunstGroup
1995Anselm KieferKukje Gallery, SéoulSolo
1993Work on paperMarian Goodman Gallery, New YorkGroup
1993Anselm Kiefer: MelancholiaSezon Museum of Art, TokyoSolo
1992Anselm KieferFuji Television Gallery, TokyoSolo
1991Anselm Kiefer: Bücher 1969-1990Kunstverein Munich Solo
1990ThresholdMuseet for Samtidskunst, OsloGroup
1990EnergieenStedelijk Museum, AmsterdamGroup
1990LilitMarian Goodman Gallery, New YorkSolo