Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen (Let 1000 Flowers bloom)

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  • Provenance

    The Artist
    Galleria Lia Rumma, Naples - Milan
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Milan, Triennale Bovisa, Kiefer e Mao: che mille fiori fioriscano, February 16 - April 6, 2008, no. 63, pp. 128-129 (illustrated, dated 2007)

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen, 1999-2007, Anselm Kiefer has transformed the ravaged landscapes of his early paintings into a vast field of heavily impastoed pastel flowers across which the portrait of Mao Zedong floats like a faded photograph. The present work is one of the most monumental of all works in the Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen series, examples of which reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Tate, London, and the Broad Museum, Los Angeles. Continuing his painterly investigation of history and cultural myth, Kiefer with this series further develops his key iconographic motif of the flower vis-à-vis Mao’s political legacy – conceptually linking the two with the phrase “laßt 1000 Blumen blühen (“Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”), incised at the upper left of the present work, in allusion to the pseudo-liberal Hundred Flowers Movement in the People’s Republic of China of 1956-1957.

    Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen exemplifies how Kiefer shifted from a preoccupation with his native Germany to a broader artistic investigation of the abuse of power. In its depiction of a totalitarian political figure against a landscape, this series comes full circle with Kiefer’s Occupations series from the onset of his artistic career in 1969. Whereas in those photographic works Kiefer utilized imitations of the Nazi Sieg Heil salute to explore the aesthetics of fascism, in Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen Kiefer turns to representations of Mao. As Kiefer explained of his fascination with the ambiguity of Mao’s personality and his politics, “He’s always intrigued me because so many of my student friends joined the Communist Party in the 1960s. I was always something of a critic, even in those times, but then I found out that he made a good beginning, was wonderful, and then became tyrannical” (Anselm Kiefer, quoted in Karen Wright, “The Ruins of Barjac”, Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, 2007, p. 446). Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen explores the very turning point at which the image of Mao as a moral institution, a widely held belief by German youth in the 1960s, began to crumble.

    Kiefer began the Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen series in 1998, inspired by his trip to China five years earlier. In a sly nod to Vincent van Gogh, one of his great artistic heroes, Kiefer based the landscapes of these paintings on fields in bloom surrounding his property in southern France – transferring color photographs he had taken onto the canvas and covering these with a combination of oil and acrylic paint, shellac and emulsion. Whereas the majority of Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen paintings are based on photographs Kiefer had taken of Mao monuments in villages and towns across China, the present work is based on the iconic portrait photograph of the communist leader from the 1950s that was reproduced in the communist leader’s Little Red Book. Reproduced 50 years later in this painting, the Mao we see here is thus a representation of a representation – based on a propaganda image, it is a haunting reminder of ideology gone wrong.

    In its undeniable beauty, Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen knowingly contradicts the subject matter it evokes. The phrase “let a thousand flowers bloom” is not just an allusion to the blooming landscape, but is also a common misquotation of Mao’s shrewd appropriation of the classical Chinese maxim, “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”, which he publically pronounced in 1956 as part of the Hundred Flowers Campaign. While ostensibly encouraging cultural plurality and freedom of speech, his campaign led to the arrest of those who took him literally – ultimately setting in motion a history of violence and oppression that would lead to the deaths of millions during the Cultural Revolution.

    Complicating straightforward readings, Kiefer embraces the symbology of the flower to explore the ambiguous legacy of the poet-turned-politician Mao. The flower is a key motif in Kiefer’s oeuvre that alludes to a wide range of ancient and Pagan myths, as well the Rosicrucian conception of the mystical rose as exemplary of cosmic totality. It symbolizes perishability and death, but also origin and fertility. In Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen, the flowers gradually encroach upon the sacred space of the Mao portrait – heightening the sense of eerie disconnect between the static image of Mao and the dynamic force of nature. With Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen Kiefer presents to us a powerful painting that, while wrestling with the traumas of history, suffering and loss, also harbors the possibility of transformation and new beginnings.

10

To be sold with no reserve

Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen (Let 1000 Flowers bloom)

titled "Laßt 1000 Blumen blühen" upper left
emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac, paper collage, straw and wire on canvas
112 1/4 x 224 3/4 in. (285.1 x 570.9 cm.)
Executed in 1999-2007.

Estimate
$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

sold for $1,215,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018