Lot 159
  • 159

Anselm Kiefer

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
175,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Anselm Kiefer
  • Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom
  • titled
  • oil, sand, ash and charcoal on photographic paper


Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001

Catalogue Note

Inspired by photographs Kiefer took of Mao statues on a trip to China in 1993, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom poetically synthesises the artist’s own background with references to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In the eponymous series, which the artist begun in 1998 and which all depict sculptural representations of Mao, Kiefer continues to explore the grand themes of history and myth, conflating an envisioned world with the brutal reality of the past. Reminiscent of his early body of work, where Kiefer staged dictatorial poses in the midst of peaceful landscapes, the present work’s juxtaposition of authoritarian status and Romantic nature evokes trans-historical references that lend Kiefer’s paintings their characteristic, multi-layered complexity.

Five years after his visit to China, Kiefer embarked on this important series and the photographs of the nature in the region of Auvergne triggered the visual inspiration for the flowers depicted in the series. The title Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom is a common misquotation of Chairman Mao’s resonant words in 1957 with which he addressed the people to offer their intellect to communism. This policy eventually led to the devastating death of millions and the curtailment of any form of opposition with intellectuals forced into manual labour during the Cultural Revolution. Kiefer’s large-scale painting on this subject fuses the looming sculpture of Mao with a vivacious sea of pink impasto flowers, which struggle to revert the viewer’s eyes from the imposing statue above. In the same monumental vein as Kiefer’s previous works, the impressive scale of the present work submerges us into this very field of flowers and envelops us into the crowd to which Mao gestures.

The standing figure of Mao, dressed in a long trench coat and raising his right arm is reminiscent of propaganda statues that were found all over China during the Cultural Revolution. His pose also evokes the gestures seen in Kiefer’s earlier photograph series documenting his 1969 performance Occupations, which depict Kiefer dressed in military uniform and raising one arm in the air, recalling the Hitler salute. In both the present work and these photographs, Kiefer continues to engage with the brutality of political regimes. As Kiefer said in 2012, “in the 1960s, in Europe and Germany, Mao was a moral institution. Students were looking to the Little Red Book for solutions… but I was already a bit critical of this. I thought there was a lot of propaganda around Mao… I was fascinated, and I admired Mao, but at the same time, I also thought something was wrong” (Anselm Kiefer in conversation with Jason Chow, ‘Anselm Kiefer: This Tristesse Isn’t Just Mine’, Wall Street Journal, 16 May 2012, online). Highlighting the darkness of the past and contrasting it with the colourful appearance of flowers, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom is a powerful exploration on the abuse of power and the idea of historicity in the eye of fading memories, a theme that lies at the core of Kiefer’s wide-spanning oeuvre.