Discovering Anselm Kiefer

It was the fall of 2001. 9/11 was on the horizon. I was studying in Denmark for a semester and enjoying the early autumn light. My fellow students and I were given tours of several attractions and museums early in the semester. And somewhere along that unintended path, I encountered Anselm Kiefer’s work at the Louisiana Museum. 

I was captivated instantly when I saw Kiefer’s paintings. They had an industrial quality to them that spoke to me of the sadness and despair of the modern era. Factories, concrete, fascism, and war are themes that jump out to me. There was something lost to the civilized world during that period.I’m not exactly advocating tree hugging, but a sadness crept into the world with the loss of natural beauty and the introduction of smog, grinding metallic sounds, and cold steel. 

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Gone are the days of warm tones and gentle breezes, peaceful meadows and openhearted human interaction. Kiefer depicted this change with such power. 

Swirling greys and blacks, smokestacks and the loss of color.I do not recommend his work to anyone looking for a cheerful, uplifting scene. However, the emotional realism conveyed in his work reminds us what we’ve forsaken, and causes the human heart to appreciate the cost of “forward progress” by experiencing a sharp sense of loss. 

I am told that not all of Kiefer’s work is so grey. I am told that some of it is even quite elegant and beautiful. For some reason, I am surprised. How does a man find it within himself to evoke both the depths and the heights of existence from his soul and pour them out onto canvas?

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