Royal Academy Regales Anselm Kiefer

London -- The Royal Academy of Arts presents a monumental retrospective of Anselm Kiefer's work; the most significant display of the artist's creations ever to be held in the UK.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network comprehend the gravitas of Kiefer's work.

The RA exhibition chronicles Kiefer's work over his 40 year career, showing a selection of the artist's oeuvre from the 70s to the present day. The beaux-arts galleries are a fitting environment for the artist's enormous canvases.

The exhibition begins with the artist's early confrontation with his own country's denial of its Nazi history. Kiefer was born in Germany in 1945, into a society in collective denial about its abhorrent past.

Post-War Amnesia

In 1969, the artist visited historic sites across Europe wearing parts of his father’s army uniform, even raising his arm in parody. In fact Kiefer posed for a photograph in which the young artist was giving the sea a Nazi salute.

The exhibition includes early work from the artist referencing this period including his series of photographs “Occupations” and the “Heroic Symbols” paintings.

For both the artist and for Germany the breaking of taboos was a way of coming to terms with an unforgivable history.

At first Kiefer's work was negatively received in the country. It was Jewish-American collectors in the 1980s that were among the first to appreciate the artist's work.

Many of the artist's materials directly reflect his country's destructive past; Kiefer's enormous painting 'Ash Flower' has a surface embedded with ash; a remnant of death, over the faint architectural lines of a grand neo-classical façade inspired by the infamous relationship between Hitler and his arch-architect, Albert Speer.

Speer had a 'Theory of Ruin' - where he believed great buildings belonging to the Third Reich should eventually make beautiful ruins to add to the mythos of its Teutonic power.

Kiefer's building seems 'ruinous' yet its decay is more about death than invented history. The painting took 14 years to create and measures 4 meters by 7 meters.

The sunflower in the work suggests another element of Kiefer's work. The artist uses the flower again and again in his painting and sculptural works; either in representation or in actuality. But Kiefer is not interested in any van Gogh-like warmth, but in the use of the dead sunflower as a signifier of renewal and the cycle of existence.

The sunflower is a signifier repeated throughout the artist's work; Kiefer has a fascination with the 17th century Paracelsian physician Robert Fludd, and his theories regarding the lives of plants, the aspects of microcosm and the macrocosm in the universe, and his suggestion that for every plant there exists a corresponding star.

In fact Kiefer produced a triptych; 'For Robert Fludd The Secret Life Of Plants', 2001. The artist created three panels of lead with his familiar scatological texture; the layers of time; but in lead, become the sky embedded with stars in the form of actual diamonds.

Symbolic Landscapes and Materials

Landscapes appear in many of the artist's works, grounding Kiefer amongst the politics of his country. The artist references The American Morgenthau Plan -- devised in 1944 to strip a near-defeated Germany of its industry and turn the country into a farm for the rest of Europe, and its people into a mass of farm-hands -- is thought to have strengthened Nazi resolve, and cost even more lives.

Kiefer embedded straw in his portrayals of Margarete, a blond Aryan who appears in a series of paintings that were inspired by Paul Celan’s elegy to victims of the Holocaust, Death Fugue.

There is more than a little of the alchemist in the artist; with his use of materials as signifiers, such as clay, straw, and lead.

Kiefer sees clay as a signifier of the body and renewal, as he does the use of plant life, or plant death - as for the artist's comment about lead; it is a poetically telling one: that lead was the only material heavy enough to carry the weight of human history.

The exhibition is a momentous achievement, at once harrowing and uplifting - Kiefer delivers the unforgettable solemnity of a personal and national identity, yet tinged with hope for renewal and the rebirth of all things.

Anselm Kiefer - Royal Academy of Arts - Until 14 December

Today's homepage Featured Art Video offers a glimpse of the installation, and interview with Keifer regarding the Royal Academy's exhibition.