Anselm Kiefer - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “I like to treat inanimate things such as stones as if they were living things, and to treat vivid, living people as if they were stones, I like this too,”
    —Anselm Kiefer


    Executed in 2008 and coming to auction for the first time, Ich Bin, Der Ich Bin is a work of incredible iconographic power, illuminating German artist Anselm Kiefer’s long-standing intellectual and artistic engagement with Judeo-Christian symbology. Three, flame-edged rocks connected by triangulated lines dominate the composition, each built up in thickly textured impasto that takes on the material qualities of the forms they represent. Just as Kiefer transforms paint into the familiar forms of rocky sediment here, these depictions are themselves subjected to a similar kind of spiritual and semantic transubstantiation. Inscribed with the titular phrase at the upper left of the canvas, each of the three rocks are annotated with a further inscription, ‘Vater’, ‘Sohn’, and ‘hl. Geist’ respectively, simple but powerful evocations of The Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  


    The title of the work is borrowed from the Hebrew phrase ‘I am that I am’, invoked in the Torah and Old Testament as God speaks to Moses from within the flames of a burning bush, instructing him to lead the Israelites to freedom in Canaan and to liberate them from Egyptian oppression. In the Biblical narrative, Moses asks for a name to identify the God of the Israelites’ fathers, to which the voice responds with the phrase ‘אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה’ (‘I am that I am’). While the flames licking the edges of the three large rocks visually recall the burning bush and rocky terrain of Mount Horeb evoked in various notable art historical depictions of the subject, they also speak to the Judeo-Christian notion of the Crucible of Flames, a proverb which states that while silver and gold are tested by flames and fire, our thoughts and hearts are tested by God.


    Dirk Bouts the Elder, Moses and the Burning Bush, c. 1450–1475, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

    Questions of theological dogma and doctrine have made themselves powerfully felt in Kiefer’s work over the years; as the artist has described, his childhood was ‘intensively Catholic’, learning Mass by rote even before he learned to write.i In Ich Bin, Der Ich Bin, we can clearly see the extent to which these important early intellectual frameworks continue to shape the artist’s thinking in close dialogue with other important aspects of practice, generating a ‘labyrinth of associations among a diversity of recycled personal motifs, mythic narratives, and historical references’ which here amplifies the artist’s deep connection to Judeo-Christian iconography, narrative, and art historical tradition.ii 


    Kiefer has spoken eloquently on this aspect of his work, especially with regards to the issue of representation and the prohibition against graven images laid down in the Ten Commandments, which he describes as ‘one of the two most important sources of inspiration.’iii Kiefer’s interpretation of the commandment ‘Though shall not make thyself a graven image’ is telling, less an invective against making, but an acknowledgement of the impossibility of recreating the essential essence of things. Looking at Ich Bin, Der Ich Bin we can sense Kiefer weighing these issues carefully. This was not the first time that Kiefer had depicted the Trinity, the present composition directly recalling an early work by Kiefer, Quaternity, now housed in the permanent collection of The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas. In this 1973 work the three entities of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are evoked through flames once again, smouldering on the bare boards of Kiefer’s attic, the inclusion of the snake introducing an air of confrontation as the powers of good and evil are waged against one another. As in the present work, Kiefer includes a decisive triangulated line between the three entities, not only reinforcing the bonds between them, but drawing our attention to the seemingly empty space that the traced form delineates. As Kiefer has described, in Jewish tradition the name of God is never explicit, but instead defined in negative terms, ‘Ain Soph, which means the limitless Nothing.’ Kiefer goes on to make a compelling comparison to ‘the coming into existence of a picture’ here, identifying the ‘space opened up and left over by the Ain Soph, into which the world can unfold itself in an imperfect and fugitive way. The picture […] will light up, however faintly, the greatness and splendour of what it could never attain.’iv Similarly, in the doctrine of the Trinity, while none of the individual entities can stand in for each other, God is in fact all of them, a central unnamed force that unites all three.


    Included in Kiefer’s 2008 exhibition Anselm Kiefer: Maria durch ein Dornwald ging with Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg, the present work also speaks directly to Kiefer’s celebrated cycle of paintings devoted to the figure of the Virgin Mary, especially those where she is shown engulfed by flame, themselves referencing the Orthodox belief that the episode of Moses and the burning bush foretells the immaculate conception: just as the bush remained untouched by the flames, so too would Mary remain a virgin in her bringing the Christ Child into the world. Given theological questions related to contemporary translations, the phrase can also be interpreted as ‘I will be what I will be’, a compelling analogue for Kiefer’s own, alchemical approach to raw, non-traditional materials in his practice. 


     Anselm Kiefer in conversation with Tim Marlow at Louisiana Museum of Art in 2010.


    Collector’s Digest


    • A deeply intellectual artist, Anselm Kiefer’s references and sources of inspiration span philosophy, poetry, theology, and science. Here, the artist draws on his long-standing intellectual and artistic engagement with Judeo-Christian iconography and doctrine.


    • The subject of major international retrospectives at prestigious institutions including the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, in 2023, the artist installed his monumental works in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice alongside La Biennale di Venezia in 2021.


    • Presented as part of the artist’s 2008 exhibition Anselm Kiefer: Maria durch ein Dornwald ging, Ich Bin, Der Ich Bin belongs to a cycle of works exploring the figure of the Virgin Mary and the iconography of the divine. Kiefer is currently the subject of a solo exhibition with Museum Voorlinden in the Netherlands. 


    i Anselm Kiefer, quoted in, ‘I secrefy matter by divesting it. A Conversation with Anselm Kiefer’, Anselm Kiefer: Maria durch ein Dornwald ging, exh. cat., Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, 2008, p. 118.

    ii Joe Martin Lin-Hill, ‘Making Meaning Beyond Landscape’, Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2014, p. 34.

    iii Leonora Onarhein, ‘God among Thorns: On Anselm Kiefer’s Pietà’ in Svein Aage Christoffersen et al, eds., Transcendence and Sensoriness: Perception, Revelation, and the Arts, Leiden, 2015, p. 222.

    iv Anselm Kiefer, quoted in Leonora Onarhein, ‘God among Thorns: On Anselm Kiefer’s Pietà’ in Svein Aage Christoffersen et al, eds., Transcendence and Sensoriness: Perception, Revelation, and the Arts, Leiden, 2015, p. 223.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Salzburg, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Anselm Kiefer: Maria durch ein Dornwald ging, 24 July-27 September 2008, pp. 30-31 (illustrated, p. 31)


Ich Bin, Der Ich Bin

titled 'ich bin der ich bin' upper left
oil, emulsion, acrylic and shellac on canvas
193 x 332.5 x 7.2 cm (75 7/8 x 130 7/8 x 2 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

£550,000 - 750,000 

Sold for £990,600

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024