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  • Provenance

    White Cube, London

  • Catalogue Essay

    I’m interested in reconstructing symbols. It’s about connecting with an older knowledge and trying to discover continuities in why we search for heaven.
    ANSELM KIEFER

    (Anselm Kiefer, in Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, Michael Auping, exh. cat. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 2005).

    Anselm Kiefer is renowned as one of the most significant artists of our time. Kiefer’s profoundly cerebral and deeply existential subject matter centers on his lifelong commitment to contextualizing human history. The profound emotional impact of the artist’s personal history as a child growing up in a divided postwar West Germany, devoid of an established identity, is evident in Kiefer’s attempt to display universal ideas regarding the human condition within his work. Often seeking solace in nature, a universal symbol of renewal, the artist has a long history of incorporating organic elements into his work. Straw, twigs, sand, and dried flowers have been built up in layers of thick impasto to produce many of the artist’s most powerful images. The finished result, hovering somewhere between painting and sculpture, often presents nature as a balm to the pains of collective memory.

    Beginning in the early 2000s Keifer’s work became increasingly concerned with human civilization, occult symbolism and naturemysticism. Selbstportrait, 1995, combines Kiefer’s signature impressive scale and organic dimensionality with his deep interest in universality and metaphysics. Its intensely human subject matter combined with the
    artist’s characteristic elemental palette awakes our collective identity as human beings tied inextricably to a vast cosmic order.

    In Selbstportrait, 1995, we also see Keifer’s masterful use of balance, both technically and thematically. Amidst a profusion of elegantly woven branches, twigs and scattered petals, the meditative figure of the artist is carefully poised, neither dominating nor receding. Enclosed by nature’s powerful embrace, the subject has managed to harmonize his presence with it—drawing on its mystical energies and gaining transcendence. Imbued with such energy, the artist hovers from the dusty gray background
    in a composed state of enlightenment, analogous to the meditative pose of the Buddha. Intensely personal, the piece symbolizes the artist himself achieving an elevated state of being. The visual effect is a compelling metaphor for the nature world itself—at once immediately powerful and intensely comforting.

    Selbstportrait, 1995, combines symbols from the earliest forms of human mythology with modern existentialist ideas to produce a timeless introspection of the human ethos. Selbstportrait, 1995, embodies Kiefer’s endless desire to construct a new symbolic system; one that embraces our joint and eternal quest for meaning in life and strives to illustrate the salvation mankind may receive from the natural world.

25

Selbstportrait

1995
oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac, wire, branches, and silk flowers on canvas, in artist’s frame
111 x 75 7/8 x 13 1/2 in (281.9 x 192.7 x 34.3 cm)

Estimate
$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $542,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

15 November 2012
New York