Anselm Kiefer / Winter Landscape, 1970
Throughout his nearly 50-year career, the German artist Anselm Kiefer (born 1945) has never been afraid to wrestle with the past. In 1969, toward the end of his studies at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe, he photographed himself in his father’s Wehrmacht uniform, posing before historic monuments and Romantic seascapes in Europe with his arm extended in an illegal Nazi salute.
Anselm Kiefer / Your Golden Hair, Margarete, 1980
Anselm Kiefer / German Lineages of Salvation, 1975
Six years later, the artist selected 18 of these images for a photo-essay titled “Occupations,” which met with widespread public outcry. Indeed, while Kiefer’s artistic provocation ran counter to the intense process of postwar denazification, which included the destruction of offensive monuments and other symbols of Germany’s infamous history, it was also a threat to a kind of collective amnesia that had overtaken West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s.
Anselm Kiefer / Winter Landscape 1970
Anselm Kiefer / Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven, 1970
In his continuing effort to disinter the past, in the 1980s Kiefer began to reuse old photographs for new projects and also extend his artistic means. He added new materials, such as earth, lead, and hay, and approached his works in near-alchemical ways. He also turned to monumental themes (including architecture, cosmology, and mysticism) to further ponder time and existence.
Anselm Kiefer / My Father Pledged Me a Sword, 1974–75 (detail)
Anselm Kiefer / Bohemia Lies by the Sea, 1996
While his ambition still grows in scale—today, his projects take over his nearly 400,000-square-foot studio outside Paris—his art, particularly in its worked and layered surfaces weathered by time and nature, remains a visceral and poetic consideration of the past as a means to understand our collective present and, by implication, our future. The works presented here, drawn from The Met collection, also offer us an opportunity to reflect on our own nation and the conflicted history we struggle to readdress today.