The white dresses, a re-occurring subject in Kiefer’s oeuvre since the late 1960s, refer to the artist’s longstanding interest in the Jewish figure Lilith. She is described in the Bible as the first woman who fled from Adam after God refused her plea for equality. She placed herself in exile on the shores of the Red Sea, claiming that she had been ordered by God to kill new born babies and await her destiny. Her own offspring were said to be demons, represented in Kiefer’s work by the ashen white nightgowns devoid of human presence. They, like Lilith herself, are remnants of something that was once alive: signifiers of catastrophe and devastation. For Kiefer, the destructed materials are equally symbols of rebirth, thus placing creation at the very heart of destruction.
Kiefer approaches the subject of the unborn with unbounded curiosity, and, exploring an emotive discourse of the title Die Ungeborenen Kiefer describes the term as “the desire of not wanting to be born” (Anselm Kiefer cited in: Exh. Cat., Paris, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Anselm Kiefer: Die Ungeborenen Press Release, 2012, online). Expanding on this premise Kiefer assumes the possibility of divine creation by eschewing Biblical stories with typical sobriety: “Cry of the prophets, the revolt of Job. It would have been better if you had never been born! ... The retrograde movement of creation. Theodicy, the accident of creation, God’s regret to have fathered this ungrateful being, this outlaw, who does not abide to the contract” (Ibid.). Although an atheist, Kiefer is nevertheless fascinated by mankind’s dependence on divine solutions and speculating God’s existence allows Kiefer dramatic recourse to explore and critique the expanded spirituality of mankind. Through Kiefer’s dogmatic conceptualisation, the title Die Ungeborenen therefore instils the painting not only with the weight of mortality and emptiness, but also the boundless possibilities, both good and bad, offered up by religion.
Die Ungeborenen is a masterful survey of many of Kiefer’s most important, long-serving, and delicate themes. The delicate dresses out before the viewer as the resplendent debris of the artist’s history, impregnated with the sublime and the promise of new beginnings.
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