Anselm Kiefer/Metropolitan Museum of Art

Anselm Kiefer/Metropolitan Museum of Art
February 1999
p. 110

Anselm Kiefer began his artistic career in the late 1960’s, just as Germany was coming to terms with its dark and complicated past. His mammoth paintings, frequently bristling with unconventional materials such as straw and sand, often incorporate symbols and slogans which serve as an ironic yet pointed examination of Germany’s recent history.

This exhibition—examples from Kiefer’s personal collection of his smaller works on paper from 1969 to 1993—chronicle his growth as an artist while offering insight into the political and philosophical struggles his country was simultaneously undergoing. It begins with Untitled—Heroic Symbols (ca. 1969), a watercolor, gouache and charcoal portrait of the artist with his arm is upraised in the Nazi salute; he looks however, more meekly academic than martial, and is standing in a puddle. A tiny version of this same figure is dwarfed by a limitless field in Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven (1970), an intimation of what has become one of Kiefer’s most potent themes: the vast and sear landscape as a metaphor for human experience.

Accustomed as we are to Kiefer’s heavy, dense canvases, the lightness and delicacy of some of his watercolors comes as a pleasant surprise. In one small, particularly tender painting inscrutably entitled Sick Art (1974), a burst of pink posies floats across an idyllic vision of mountains and water. Later, as Kiefer narrowed his palette to blacks, whites and grays and began painting on photographs, the mood becomes more ominous. His experimentation with unusual materials continues into his works on paper, as in Heavy Cloud (1985), a painting on a photograph where the cloud is made, quite literally, of lead.

Engaging as these works are, they serve only as footnotes to Kiefer’s major paintings and alone, the one from 1996 the Met has installed at the entrance to the exhibition, would be worth the trip. Eighteen feet long and rendered in Kiefer’s characteristically thick impasto, it is a field of poppies bisected in the center by a rutted road that runs in deep perspective toward the horizon. On the road as well as the narrow strip of darkness that serves as sky, he has inscribed the title:Bohemia Lies by the Sea (ironic, because Bohemia was a landlocked country). The brightness and optimism of the rosy blossoms are offset by the military browns, grays and blacks of the earth and surrounding foliage. It is the battlefield where romantic dreams and reality square off and in Kiefer’s world, idealism lives no longer than a poppy’s bloom.

-Carol Diehl