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In 1969 Anselm Kiefer, then a 24-year-old art student in Karlsruhe, travelled round various locations in France, Switzerland and Italy where he was photographed giving the “sieg heil” (Hitlergruß) salute outside prominent buildings. His exhibiting of a selection of the images, under the title Occupations (Bezetzung), for his degree show provoked anxious incomprehension among his tutors and, later, anger among the public and critics. The taboo-breaking work has now entered the art-historical canon and Kiefer has been credited with an early “naming” of the evil that so many of his countrymen had chosen to forget, but more than 40 years after it was produced, Occupations remains one of the most polarising artworks to have emerged from postwar Germany.

Late last year in New York, an exhibition of Kiefer’s work featured some of the 1969 images alongside more typical later work such as huge glass cases displaying tableaux made up of cotton dresses, palms, bushes, an aeroplane fuselage and burned books, as well as large paintings of the German landscape made with ash, lead, snakeskin and other organic materials. “When I moved to my new studio in Paris a few years ago I had the space and opportunity to look at old work, often for the first time since it was made,” he explains. “I found all these negatives from 1969 that I’d never even developed. So I developed some of them and put them in a big container for the New York show. It seemed a long time ago when I made them, but even after all these years some people did not like them at all.”

The show attracted a small demonstration, but Kiefer says he is “used to hard reactions. When I first thought of the work I didn’t know anyone else who was doing anything similar, but I had always thought that I had been born an artist and so what I did was art. I was very confident. If I hadn’t been I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. Even by the time of the Venice biennale in 1980, when I was supposedly established, not a single critic was for me. Everyone was against my work. Of course, they later turned in my favour, but I needed a high degree of confidence to continue.”


Nicholas Wroe


Anselm Kiefer’s “Cetus,” part of his ambitious exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery. (Photo: Chester Higgins, New York Times

The German artist Anselm Kiefer knows how to put on a show. The dour and dusty copse of art with which he has forested the vast Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea may elicit awe, skepticism or disdain — or perhaps a conflicted combination of all three. But its initial power is hard to deny.

This is Mr. Kiefer’s first exhibition in New York in eight years and possibly the best he has ever mounted in the city, at least on his own terms. Those terms value theatricality, moral instruction and a variety of materials and objects — natural, artistic, industrial, found, made — employed with brutish verve.


Roberta Smith
New York Times

Peering into the void: Fiennes inside Kiefer’s complex in 2008

Sophie Fiennes’ documentary on Anselm Kiefer, “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow”, is released in UK cinemas this month after a showcase at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The director spent more than two years filming the artist at work in his complex at Barjac near Avignon in the south of France. Kiefer had invited Fiennes to document his final days at the immense studio-cum-installation, as he prepared to finally abandon the site before moving back to Paris. The title is borrowed from the Biblical story of Lilith, an interest of Kiefer’s, and refers to the fact that the site is now semi-derelict.


Iain Millar
The Art newspaper

Theatre of miseries … Anselm Kiefer on stage with the cast. Photograph: Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris

The 20th anniversary of the Opéra Bastille in Paris is marked by a spectacle of ruins: dust, more dust and the tottering towers of a city in a grey desert. In the Beginning, which premiered earlier this week, is directed and devised by the artist Anselm Kiefer, working in collaboration with the composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann.

The music rustles like dry leaves, rattles like a bag of bones. There are parched yelps, like jackals among the ruins, and crescendos and musical crises that seem to interrupt nothing at all. The atmosphere is restrained, yet full of portent. There is no singing, only declamatory recitations from the Bible, the occasional muffled wail, some low-key humming. Verses from Isaiah and Jeremiah are spoken by a disembodied voice, as if one were hearing in one’s head. It is hard to tell if the recitations are being spoken by Lilith, the first wife of Adam, played by Geneviève Motard, or by Shekhinah, Geneviève Boivin, who Kiefer uses as a representation of the wandering holy people of the diaspora.

The words hang in the air, along with the dust. There is no plot, only lamentation after lamentation. “Even the carcasses of men shall fall as refuse on the open field, like cuttings after the harvester, and no one shall gather them,” a voice says. There are images of broken vessels, of a world in ruins, of rivers turned foul, and of things that cannot be made whole again. These are desolate, homeless prophecies that might make men stop up their ears and drive them mad. As Kiefer wrote to Widmann when they were preparing this theatre of miseries, a letter that appears in the book accompanying the work, “everything has already occurred at the beginning, because the beginning is the end”. In the Beginning feels like the end of the world.

“I am against the idea of the end, that everything culminates in paradise or judgement,” Kiefer told me when we met in his studio in Le Marais the morning after the premiere. “The communists in East Germany also thought history would one day come to an end.” History is cyclical, he suggests, “but we need some illusions to survive”. He is planning a move to Portugal, where he can work with the sea on one side, a dying forest on the other. “It’s the kind of situation that interests me,” he says.

Born in 1945 and brought up a Catholic, Kiefer has never been afraid of big subjects or complex allusions. He has plenty of serious discussions when he’s at work, he says, most of them with dead poets – many of whose words find their way into his paintings – Friedrich Hölderlin, Paul Celan, Goethe. “I ask them what they think of what I’m doing. Mostly it’s not very complimentary,” he laughs.


Adrian Searle