Anselm Kiefer - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 18, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg
    Private Collection
    Christie's, New York, May 13, 2008, lot 50
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Salzburg, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Anselm Kiefer: Am Anfang, July 25 - September 13, 2003, pp. 62-63 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Few other artists have so successfully navigated the difficult terrain between the possibility of transcendence and the necessity of remembrance as dramatically and provocatively as Anselm Kiefer. Drifting on the muddied tides of history, the impossibly heavy lead ship of Kiefer's painting-come-sculpture Merkaba, buckles against its rigid supports as if collapsing under the grievous weight of war’s tragic annals. Merkaba is a school of ancient Jewish mysticism and the anonymous corpus known as the Merkaba literature, along with the Hekhalot literature, is a source of pre-Kabbalah, mystical instruction and reference. This painting, realized on an ambitious scale, is a composition of astounding emotional effect and dramatic charge in which Kiefer exhibits the true extent of his artistic abilities and historical influences. While Kiefer's use of mystical narrative is meant to inspire consideration into the painting's deeper meanings, the formal qualities such as the swirling paint and expressive mark making bring Cy Twombly’s work to mind.

    Merkaba possesses the characteristic turbid and highly manipulated surface of Kiefer’s most dynamic work. Heavy impasto layers of burnt umber, smoky charcoal and black, alive with unseen forces, surround a handmade lead warship, perched precariously amidst the turbulent seas. The Hebrew word merkaba literally means “a thing to ride in” or “cart” while the hekhalot are the divine palaces – taken together the Merkaba and Hekhalot literature deals specifically with ascent to the seven heavenly palaces on the “heavenly chariot” of the merkaba. Kiefer has, in his Merkaba, depicted a contemporaneous version of this chariot as understood through his post-war, Germanic lens. Suspended from wire at the top of the canvas, the war-ship breaks free of its oceanic constraint and is elevated in the celestial firmament. Beneath, the oceanic depths are neither cerulean nor serene, but opaque, thickly layered and encrusted, demonstrating the sea’s capacity for sudden and violent transformation, the sublime authority of nature. The ship floats with hardly any other object in sight, save for a lone aircraft in the upper left, isolated and seemingly aimless. The only other recognizable iconography in the composition are the random tally marks that occupy the space between the ship and the sea. What they represent is impossible to say. They serve as a sort of apocalyptic tally, perhaps a count of souls saved (or lost) in the War, or marking the passing of time. There is a suggestion in this work, through its hidden depths, of the unknowable and our fundamental inability to predict the future.

    Much of Kiefer’s art is influenced by an exploration of his own German national psyche, the country’s artistic heritage, and the enduring influence of both World Wars. Merkaba represents an extension of these ideas, evoking the relations and trauma of the past, present and future in a three dimensional piece. Kiefer’s talent lies in his ability to move between these referential spaces, manipulating the philosophical and political myths that occupy Western history. Merkaba is a testament to this talent and yet another masterful contribution of Kiefer’s to the canon of contemporary Western art.

Please note this lot is sold with no reserve


Lot offered with No Reserve


titled "MERKABA" upper left
oil, emulsion, acrylic, charcoal, plaster, wire and lead objects on canvas
74 1/2 x 110 1/4 x 11 1/2 in. (189.2 x 280 x 29.2 cm.)
Executed in 2002.

$600,000 - 900,000 

Sold for $970,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017