Out of the Ashes

The postwar art of Anselm Kiefer

It does not take long for "Anselm Kiefer: Works on Paper, 1969-93"-fifty-four watercolors, gouaches, woodcuts, acrylics, and photomontages on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until March 21-to rattle and disturb you. It is as if the German artist (born 1945) has set out to wrestle with all your perspectives and preconceptions: intellectual, aesthetic, and moral.

First there is the bracing Nordic coldness of many of the representations; then the brashness of artistic manner, at times suggesting a lack of finesse if not flakiness; and finally an insistent intellectualism that cries out for explication. One doesn’t ordinarily anticipate finding the name Ludwig Feuerbach scrawled across an otherwise scenic and well-executed watercolor ("German Lineage of Salvation," 1975). Here, as elsewhere in the exhibit, curator Nan Rosenthal’s explanatory notes are invaluable, for Kiefer seems intent on taking you deep into the Teutonic forest. He dwells not only on Germanic mythologies, art, and philosophy, but on National Socialism, the Holocaust, and nuclear Armageddon.

Kiefer was born in Baden-Wurtemburg, on the upper Rhine, the son of an art teacher. While at university, he studied law and French but, after a retreat at the Dominican priory at La Tourette, decided to pursue art. He is best known for his large, layered, abstract yet representational canvases of ruins, forests, and fields, one of which, the...

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About the Author

Patrick Jordan is a former managing editor of Commonweal.