ANSELM KIEFER
Die Argonauten, 2008 Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, branches, lead,  gold paint, charcoal, fabric, ashes, sand, metal, ceramic, ceramic  teeth and plaster on canvas under glass and in steel frame.                          282 × 192 × 35 cm (111 × 75 5/8 × 13 3/4 in). 

Anselm Kiefer was born into a country overshadowed by guilt and  underscored by suppressed memory. It was also a nation that had lost its  identity and entire artistic and cultural heritage. The artistic world  of post-Nazi Germany imposed upon itself the ‘unspoken law’ of having to  break with the old, pre-war traditions as well as censorship of all  iconography and imagery relating to the Third Reich. This had a  catastrophic effect upon the arts and “plunged Federal Germany into a  veritable crisis of representation” (A. Lauterwein, Anselm Kiefer / Paul  Celan – Myth, Mourning and Memory, London: Thames & Hudson, 2007,  p. 24). It was in this environment and while under the influence of  Joseph Beuys, that Kiefer began to question his own artistic heritage by  focusing on the iconographic, symbolic and mythological elements of  German culture which had been poisoned by Nazi propaganda, then silenced  and buried in the nation’s collective unconscious. This search  for identity as expressed by a personal and national heritage is the  driving force behind Kiefer’s work. He was drawn to German myths,  literature, and music as well as to philosophy and alchemy. Romanticism  and its landscape painters, such as Caspar David Friedrich, were also  part of Kiefer’s inheritance. Friedrich and other artists of his era  regarded nature as a mirror of the human soul and as an agent with which  to depict and express human emotions. Over time, Kiefer expanded his  quest for identity beyond Germany and began to draw upon the Old  Testament and the myths of ancient Greece and Egypt. Such a  dialogue with history and mythology transforms Kiefer’s works into an  infinite web of meaning, symbols and imagery. The results are  monumental, heavily textured paintings layered with materials such as  sand, ash, lead, branches and water which blur the distinction between  painting and sculpture. These ‘constructions’ have often been left  outside to weather them and make them appear as if remnants of a  different time in the past. The current lot, entitled Die  Argonauten [The Argonauts] from 2008, draws on the ancient Greek legend  of sailors led by Jason who set out on their ship the Argo to regain the  Fleece of the Golden Ram from Colchis in order to reclaim the throne  from King Pelias. Once in Colchis, King Aietes agrees to return the  fleece upon completion of several tasks. Amongst others Jason has to  tame fire-breathing bulls, plough and sow a field with dragons’ teeth,  and overcome the warriors that are born from these teeth. Die  Argonauten is an ambitious three-dimensional work made with a  characteristic combination of unlikely materials, such as branches,  lead, gold paint fabric, ashes, sand, ceramic teeth, and plaster.  Although the dress, the gold and teeth, together with the handwritten  title, explicitly refer to the Greek myth, these symbols are also  inevitably associated with the Holocaust. Such multilayering of meaning  is typical of Kiefer’s work – his transformational use of natural and  man-made material emphasizes his Romantic responsiveness to nature but  at the same time evokes a sense of tragedy and disillusionment and,  ultimately, the catastrophe of 20th-century Germany history. The  decay and destruction of the material is hereby key, as for Kiefer  every beginning necessarily emerges from ruins. Transformation brings us  back to nature and nature allows us to go back to our origins, to  reflect and ultimately to regain hope. The underlying layers evoked by a  symbol, a material or a name, is what Kiefer keeps on looking for.  “History is for Kiefer also a particular kind of feeling, an emotion or  sensibility that implicates us in the world – and that is precisely why  the name of the myth and the poetic fragment is such an essential  recurring factor, because only the naming, often written directly on the  surface of the picture, provides the key to the continuation” (P. E.  Tøjner, M. Holm and A. Kold, eds., Anselm Kiefer, Humlebæk: Louisiana  Museum of Modern Art, 2010).

ANSELM KIEFER

Die Argonauten, 2008
Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, branches, lead, gold paint, charcoal, fabric, ashes, sand, metal, ceramic, ceramic teeth and plaster on canvas under glass and in steel frame.  282 × 192 × 35 cm (111 × 75 5/8 × 13 3/4 in). 

Anselm Kiefer was born into a country overshadowed by guilt and underscored by suppressed memory. It was also a nation that had lost its identity and entire artistic and cultural heritage. The artistic world of post-Nazi Germany imposed upon itself the ‘unspoken law’ of having to break with the old, pre-war traditions as well as censorship of all iconography and imagery relating to the Third Reich. This had a catastrophic effect upon the arts and “plunged Federal Germany into a veritable crisis of representation” (A. Lauterwein, Anselm Kiefer / Paul Celan – Myth, Mourning and Memory, London: Thames & Hudson, 2007, p. 24). It was in this environment and while under the influence of Joseph Beuys, that Kiefer began to question his own artistic heritage by focusing on the iconographic, symbolic and mythological elements of German culture which had been poisoned by Nazi propaganda, then silenced and buried in the nation’s collective unconscious.

This search for identity as expressed by a personal and national heritage is the driving force behind Kiefer’s work. He was drawn to German myths, literature, and music as well as to philosophy and alchemy. Romanticism and its landscape painters, such as Caspar David Friedrich, were also part of Kiefer’s inheritance. Friedrich and other artists of his era regarded nature as a mirror of the human soul and as an agent with which to depict and express human emotions. Over time, Kiefer expanded his quest for identity beyond Germany and began to draw upon the Old Testament and the myths of ancient Greece and Egypt.

Such a dialogue with history and mythology transforms Kiefer’s works into an infinite web of meaning, symbols and imagery. The results are monumental, heavily textured paintings layered with materials such as sand, ash, lead, branches and water which blur the distinction between painting and sculpture. These ‘constructions’ have often been left outside to weather them and make them appear as if remnants of a different time in the past.

The current lot, entitled Die Argonauten [The Argonauts] from 2008, draws on the ancient Greek legend of sailors led by Jason who set out on their ship the Argo to regain the Fleece of the Golden Ram from Colchis in order to reclaim the throne from King Pelias. Once in Colchis, King Aietes agrees to return the fleece upon completion of several tasks. Amongst others Jason has to tame fire-breathing bulls, plough and sow a field with dragons’ teeth, and overcome the warriors that are born from these teeth.

Die Argonauten is an ambitious three-dimensional work made with a characteristic combination of unlikely materials, such as branches, lead, gold paint fabric, ashes, sand, ceramic teeth, and plaster. Although the dress, the gold and teeth, together with the handwritten title, explicitly refer to the Greek myth, these symbols are also inevitably associated with the Holocaust. Such multilayering of meaning is typical of Kiefer’s work – his transformational use of natural and man-made material emphasizes his Romantic responsiveness to nature but at the same time evokes a sense of tragedy and disillusionment and, ultimately, the catastrophe of 20th-century Germany history.

The decay and destruction of the material is hereby key, as for Kiefer every beginning necessarily emerges from ruins. Transformation brings us back to nature and nature allows us to go back to our origins, to reflect and ultimately to regain hope. The underlying layers evoked by a symbol, a material or a name, is what Kiefer keeps on looking for. “History is for Kiefer also a particular kind of feeling, an emotion or sensibility that implicates us in the world – and that is precisely why the name of the myth and the poetic fragment is such an essential recurring factor, because only the naming, often written directly on the surface of the picture, provides the key to the continuation” (P. E. Tøjner, M. Holm and A. Kold, eds., Anselm Kiefer, Humlebæk: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2010).

18 Okt. 2011 / 114 Anmerkungen / anselm kiefer 2000-09 

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    ANSELM KIEFER, Die Argonauten, 2008
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    La petite robe blanche d’Anselm Kiefer
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