Anselm Kiefer - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Europe

  • Catalogue Essay

    'To my mind, art is the only possibility of making a connection between disparate things and thus creating a meaning... I see history as synchronous, whether it's the Sumerians with their Epic of Gilgamesh or German mythology. As far as I am concerned the old sagas are not old at all, nor is the Bible. When you go to them, most things are already formulated.'

    - ANSELM KIEFER, 1989

    Anselm Kiefer employs a bewildering panoply of materials in his paintings, creating works which are as varied in their thematic direction as they are in their composition and creation. His vast range of subject matter is matched only by the seemingly limitless number of materials he manipulates to create his impressive pieces. The distinctive use of multiple mediums in a single painting blurs the line between painting and sculpture, while questioning our own ability to negotiate the physical realm in a coherent fashion and to unify a sense of time within space. The present lot is an intimate and poignant example of Kiefer's ability to comment on both historical and religious events in an original and insightful fashion.

    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 censoring 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 is drawn to German myths, literature, and music as well as to philosophy and alchemy. Romanticism and its landscape painters, such as Caspar David Friedrich, are 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 confuse 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 time long past.

    The present lot, entitled Die Argonauten [The Argonauts], 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 agreed to return the fleece upon completion of several tasks. Amongst other onerous feats Jason had 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 the teeth, together with the handwritten title, explicitly refer to the Greek myth, these symbols are also inevitably associated with the Holocaust. Such layering 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. His use of recognizable forms and objects imbued with a heavy personal pathos and tragedy echoes the work of one of his American contemporaries, Robert Gober, whose hollowed dress sculptures, sinks, and other handmade everyday items have come to be synonymous with his own personal history.

    The decay and destruction of the material is 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 dichotomy of the manmade and the natural, the Apollonian and the Dionysian, thrusts Kiefer’s paintings into the fore of the viewer’s psyche. Like his landscape paintings, Die Argonauten has a particular resonance built up in its physicality that is undergirded and solidified by its emotional resonance. The underlying layers evoked by symbol, material or name are 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).


Die Argonauten

oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, branches, lead, gold paint, charcoal, fabric, ashes, sand, metal, ceramic, ceramic teeth, plaster on canvas, in artist's glass and steel frame
282 × 192 × 35 cm (111 × 75 5/8 × 13 3/4 in).
Titled ‘Die Argonauten’ upper left.

£600,000 - 800,000 ‡♠

Sold for £662,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 12 February 2015 7pm