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Arts

Heavy art: Anselm Kiefer retrospective opens in Paris

He works with heavy materials and with uncomfortable truths: an Anselm Kiefer retrospective opens at the Centre Pompidou. The German artist has dealt with Germany's history and myths like no other.

Winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, Anselm Kiefer deals with uncomfortable truths. He drills deep into history until it hurts. After his studies at the School of Art in Karlsruhe and at the Dusseldorf Art Academy under Joseph Beuys, he created art that expressed one of his preoccupations: Nazi history.

Exhibition Anselm Kiefer, Copyright: Anselm Kiefer / Photo : Charles Duprat

Anselm Kiefer in 2014

Kiefer was born in the Swabian town of Donaueschingen in March 1945, two months before Germany's official surrender. Carrying the heavy burden of war, he was one of the first artists to make it a central theme.

For his college thesis, Kiefer travelled through Europe and filmed himself performing the Nazi salute in public. In Germany, he was accused of being a neo-Nazi. Kiefer wanted to find out for himself the impact Nazism had on him.

Coping with history

Anselm Kiefer was the first artist of the postwar generation whose work deals with Nazi history. He made it his personal goal to find out what had happened. In schools, the topic is covered within a half year - not enough, Kiefer once said in an interview.

He wanted to find out how he would have behaved during the war. Coping with the past became one of his leitmotivs, along with exploring Germanic and ancient mythology, and later, Jewish mysticism.

Lilith (1987), Copyright: Anselm Kiefer

'Lilith' (1987)

In the 1970s, Kiefer created a series of symbolic works: landscapes made out of burned earth or charred books, recalling the horrors and devastation of World War II.

Destructive energy and the healing power of art

Rejecting the influences of abstract expressionism, pop art and minimalism, Kiefer developed his own visual language, which was heavily influenced by his teacher Joseph Beuys. Whereas Beuys worked with fat and felt, Anselm Kiefer used lead, earth and archaic materials - whose severity adds an aura of melancholy and destructiveness to his work. At the same time, Kiefer believes in the healing power of art. Like an alchemist, he combines stones, metals and plants in his display cases. This type of installation is seen in 40 models at the Centre Pompidou exhibition.

Anselm Kiefer was first recognized in the US - whereas in 1970's Germany, it still seemed too early to confront the past in art. In 1980, Kiefer represented Germany at the Venice Biennale. He has been invited to Documenta, the world art exhibition in Kassel, three times since 1982.

Major Anselm Kiefer retrospective in Paris

Exhibition Anselm Kiefer, Copyright: Atelier Anselm Kiefer / Photo : Renate Graf

In his studio

The French adore the German artist, who moved to France in 1993. French museums have regularly created space to show his huge installations and paintings. But the current retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris is the most extensive Kiefer exhibition in France within the last 30 years.

The nearly 150 works on display include key early ones dealing with the Holocaust such as "Resurrexit" and "Quaternität" (both from 1973), "Varus" (1976), "Margarethe" (1981) and "Sulamith" (1983). More recent works exhibited revolve around Jewish mysticism and the kabbalah. Beginning on December 16, the exhibition runs until April 18, 2016.

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