Having relocated to the south of France in the early 1990s, Kiefer executed Untitled not far from Arles, where Van Gogh created his vibrant sunflower works. Unlike the cheerful yellow hues of the Master, however, the present work emanates a melancholic and sombre tone exacerbated by the minimal black and white palette. The charred faces of the sunflowers reflect the infinity of space and contrast sharply with the pale flesh of the inert body. Growing up with a father who taught art and art history, Kiefer was exposed to modern masterpieces from an early age and often quotes art historical and academic referents in his works. When observing Untitled, the viewer might wonder if the male figure is a self-portrait or a reference to a different source. Indeed, given the star-shaped sunflower that dominates the composition, we could imagine the Kiefer poetically alludes to that for every plant on Earth there was a corresponding star in the firmament. Fludd is remembered for his ‘Diagram of Spheres’, an occult symbol first published in his Utriusque Cosmi, a five-volume encyclopaedia of the divine cosmos published between 1617-21. This symbol, made up of concentric circles, represents the ties between the Cosmos and Earth. Kiefer wholeheartedly embraces this association, believing that plants and flowers symbolise this relationship between heaven and earth, life and death, and the eternity beyond. They are bidirectional: both pointing upwards as they grow and downwards as roots meld with earth and other decomposed plants.
Art historian Germano Celant writes that for Kiefer “art is an opening-up between order and chaos, between human and natural, between individuality and history, between heaven and earth. Through its function as a link that holds together opposites, these poles belong to each other. For this reason, the intimate reality of the artist is the original force that nourishes the tree of life, through which the human is connected to the natural, the terrestrial to the celestial” (Germano Celant cited in: Germmano Celant et al., ’ Anselm Kiefer, Milan 1997, p. 15). By embracing these mythologies and infusing them into his work, Kiefer transforms the quotidian elements of acrylic, shellac, paper and canvas into something of extreme metaphorical significance. Untitled evokes the transformative effects that are inherent to Kiefer’s best work.
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