Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2010
Deftly exemplifying key themes of his oeuvre, Des Herbstes Runengespinst – für Paul Celan draws on the legacy and power of poetry as well as a spiritualistic contemplation of the land, in line with Anselm Kiefer’s longstanding efforts to access the fundamentals of human existence.
Executed in 2005, this work signifies a decisive return to poetry as a key focus in the artist’s practice. Taking a prevalent motif of Paul Celan's literature as it’s title, this piece forms an enduring epitaph to the poet whose uniquely powerful observations have provided the most profound and continued inspiration for Kiefer. Celan’s haunting meditations on the Holocaust – shown in works such as Death Fugue, written in a concentration camp in 1945 – provide a cutting psychological examination of man’s ability to produce and destroy in equal measure. As noted by Michael Auping, “in Kiefer’s imagery, as well as his own use of words in combination with images, he absorbed some of Celan’s sense of the tragic becoming the surreal” (Michael Auping quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Anslem Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, 2005-06, p. 37)
Here we encounter a ploughed yet barren field that is enlivened with poetic text and strings of esoteric linguistic symbols, strewn across the furrows with calculated delicacy. Designating the season as Autumn (Herbstes) Kiefer evokes a decline in vitality, resonant with his ashen palette. The title also refers to the characters of ancient alphabets and the scripts of Germanic languages, as well as aphorisms and incantations with mystical dimensions (Runen). Kiefer conceptualises a nexus or web (gespinst) of linguistic channels, which bind the poetic currents of the past to the present.
The ploughed field, desolate yet cultivated to yield, has been a recurring motif for the artist, first appearing in a book-work from his early period Unfruchtbare Landschaften (Barren Landscapes) 1969. The fields symbolise both his upbringing in rural Germany and a nation ravaged by the history of the Third Reich. Marked by a high horizon, here the field engulfs the frame with a poetically warped perspective and a sense of foreshortening in which the traces of the plough open up with expedient immediacy as they draw near. In tandem with the impressive scale of the work, Kiefer toys with the idea of the sublime, a key tenet of German Romanticism.
Kiefer thus reevaluates the importance of the landscape within the German cultural psyche. The cult of the land – of Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil)– was most darkly channeled into Hitler’s belief that ‘true Germans’ came from the soil and were those who worked the land. Here the artist consciously creates a scene that honestly bears the scars of its symbolic weight, with a hope of ultimate rejuvenation. As Kiefer noted: “plowing and burning, like slash-and-burn agriculture, is a process of regeneration, so that the earth can be reborn and create new growth toward the sun. Burning is a method to take out spirit” (Anselm Kiefer in conversation with Michael Auping, in: ibid., p. 172). The wounded arboreal landscape is a theme similarly picked up by Georg Baselitz in the 1960s. With both Kiefer and Baselitz having moved to rural studios within 100 miles of one another in 1971, a sense of reengagement with the land guided both artists to different effect.
Des Herbstes Runengespinst typifies Kiefer’s unique ability to create vibrantly abstract yet simultaneously representative surfaces, building up great vistas with areas of indefinite tonal forms and varied textures. The resulting encrusted, impasto surface fluctuates between opaque abstraction and lucid vision, a mutated memory. This piece shows Kiefer as highly accomplished in the incorporation of unconventional materials. Here, the natural elements include twigs and sticks along with a varied application of emulsion, acrylic, charcoal and plaster. As a historically charged material, the use of lead is significant for Kiefer, regarding its place within the tradition of alchemy. As the least pure metal that seemingly has the potential to reach the status of the most symbolically spiritual gold, Kiefer utilises lead’s connection to older systems of knowledge to express man’s continued search for heaven.
Kiefer’s penchant for humanistic themes, ambitious materials and working at a monumental scale has led to the celebration of his artworks within international museum collections. This work has been on long-term loan to the permanent collection of the Gemeente Museum in the Hauge, Netherlands. Here it formed an important component in this prestigious collection which itself holds some of the greatest works of modern and contemporary European art.
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