Anselm Kiefer - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Bastian, Berlin
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Texas, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Anselm Kiefer. Heaven and Earth, 25 September 2005 - 14 January 2007, p. 149 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Anselm Kiefer: Salt of the Earth, exh. cat., Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venice, 2011, p. 185 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Monumental and multifaceted, in Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) Anselm Kiefer envelops the viewer in his deep and textured celestial composition. Executed in 2004, Kiefer develops his stratigraphic canvas through a complex layering of materials, evoking the appearance of a starry cosmos. The rich background appears endless through the artist’s dense layers of robust metal and paint; Kiefer flips perspective in the present work so that we feel as if we are both drifting through space, looking down at a galaxy of dazzling stars and dizzying constellations, or viewing a city at night from a birds-eye view. The ever-shifting surface of Voyage au Bout de la Nuit reflects our monumental earthly impact as well as the astral enormity of space. Exhibited at Kiefer’s travelling exhibition Heaven and Earth, the present work oscillates between the astral and temporal realm, suspending us in a sublime state of flux.

    Directly referring to Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s book, Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, Kiefer’s cosmological composition recalls the romanticised title through its sumptuous picture plane. Evocative of the cover design of Céline’s 1932 novel, the book cover is a stylised adaption of a World War I map of France. Inspiring a number of works and used as a title for one of his exhibitions, Céline’s viscerally semi-autobiographical book follows its protagonist’s journey into cynicism and nihilism, abandoning science and idealism. Like Céline, Kiefer explores the fallibility of following dogmatic ideology, removing figuration to liberate the canvas from pictorial association. The sheer imaginative scope of Céline’s novel is reflected in Kiefer’s otherworldly rendering of a heavenly yet mortal sphere.

    Characteristically transmogrifying figurative language into visual tropes, Voyage au Bout de la Nuit resembles an astral map of the constellations. Paint droplets burn like stars on the painting’s surface and thin lines slice across the canvas charting from star to star like a child’s dot-to-dot. The constellations were a point of fascination for Kiefer who studied them after moving to the South of France, and works such as Wasserman (2001) bear the mark of his interest in astronomy. Kiefer’s exploration of science, myth and religion coalesce in a tumultuous culmination of beliefs, reflecting astronomy’s ability to fuel all three. Traversing diverse schools of thought, Kiefer interweaves the celestial with the terrestrial. While the background of Voyage au Bout de la Nuit is, on first glance, an arid no-man’s land, in which life cannot be sustained, this inferred union with the planetary system proves that Kiefer’s world is far from godless.

    The textured canvas of Voyage au Bout de la Nuit bears a similarity to the expressive brushstrokes of Vincent van Gogh’s La nuit étoilée à Arles (1888). Both artists elude figuration in favour of painterly experimentation, opposed to the academic tradition of illusory realism. Van Gogh’s fiery whirls of paint which convey his starry night sky blaze from the canvas, expressing an evocative drama expressed in Kiefer’s metaphysical universe. For both artists, the landscape becomes a canvas upon which to project their internal condition; they become abstracted self-portraits which encapsulate the externalisation of emotions.

    Born in 1945, directly before the collapse of the National Socialist government, Kiefer’s prolific oeuvre grapples with the horrors of the Second World War and the enormous loss suffered during the Third Reich. Addressing the cataclysmic events of twentieth century German history, Kiefer’s work reflects on the transitory and limited nature of memory, whether personal and collective. The present work draws us into his world of pre-creation chaos, his Olam HaTohu (a stage in Jewish Kabbalah). In doing so, Kiefer attempts to draw us back to the very beginning of existence, back to the creation of the universe to explore a time when there was nothing. The extreme loss of life suffered during the Holocaust left a gaping hole in humanity which brought Germany back to Stunde Null. Transporting the viewer back to a liminal state of nothingness, Kiefer’s dark canvas provides us with the space to comprehend the incomprehensible.

    In his exploration of the rational in relation to the mystical, Kiefer conveys the futility of man’s attempt to impose logic upon the natural world and seek order in chaos. Imbuing the canvas with references to mythology and poetry, the present work manifests the infinite, reviving the notion of history painting to create something all-encompassing and touching upon the sublime. Voyage au Bout de la Nuit establishes a mutual dialogue between spectator and artwork, exploring the tensions between what one can remember and what one imagines, challenging our spiritual notions and earthly experiences.


Voyage au Bout de la Nuit

oil, acrylic, emulsion and metal on canvas
190.5 x 283 cm (75 x 111 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2004.

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £489,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017