Für Walther von der Vogelweide
Anselm Kiefer's ongoing preoccupation with cultural memory, identity and history lends his works their multi-layered and complex iconography, constantly fuelled by a canon of historical, mythological and literary sources. These range from scenes taken from Greek mythology to Christian symbolism and poems by Charles Baudelaire.
These new works reference Walther von der Vogelweide’s most famous poem ‘Under der linden’, in which the 'minnesinger' describes the romantic encounter between lovers of unequal social origins in the countryside. The experience of nature and the broken blades of grass and flowers described in the poem are recurring elements in Kiefer's symbolic pictorial language, which the artist has utilised increasingly since his earlier series Für Paul Celan, Die Ungeborenen and Morgenthau Plan.
The pictures were painted in Barjac, in the south of France [...]. The grass, the entire vegetation was so dried out that the light yellow stalks and the withered thistles made for a whole variety of ochre and yellow shades which delighted me; which, in their beauty on the verge of decay, reminded me of the Grim Reaper, Eros and Thanatos. As I walked through the glowing fields, I kept thinking of Walther von der Vogelweide – his love-songs, his poems, so closely bound up with his life. – Anselm Kiefer
Kiefer often uses depictions of nature to explore the fundamental questions of human existence, with a dialectic of beauty and destruction inherent in his works. The punctual, pastose application of paint creates a haptic, gestural surface that suggests the influence of Abstract Expressionism or Vincent van Gogh's landscapes. Folded and tangled stalks break up the pictorial space, seemingly advancing towards the viewer as if by an invisible force.
It is as if the plasticity of Kiefer’s compositions has abolished the difference between the object and its representation, as if here we have an identity between the picture and what is pictured. This is the aim of a very different kind of art, the icon-painting of Eastern Orthodoxy, where the icon-theology actually affirms an identity between the holy personage depicted and the painted image. – Martin Mosebach
In many cases, Anselm Kiefer complements his works with objects applied to the canvas, which contain a variety of symbolic references of varying intensity and enhance their symbolic content. The addition of the scythe in several new works extends Kiefer's existing canon of objects to include another highly symbolic item, allowing for interpretation on an art historical, as well as a philosophical or literary, plane. Following the principle of balance in Kiefer's work, the material weight of the scythe provides a necessary counterbalance to the spiritual or mystical content of the work. Since antiquity, the scythe has been used as a tool for harvesting grain and, in the context of Christian iconography, has become a symbol of harvest time, fertility, but also of death, God's judgment and eternity. In the visual arts, Cronos, as the personification of time, and the figure of death are both depicted with a sickle. As an attribute of farming and the working class, the sickle became a national emblem and political symbol in the 20th century. The sickle and the scythe further symbolise that all the fruit that time produces is ultimately harvested. Moreover, its curvature illustrates that all time circles back on itself. Kiefer thus addresses the codes and conceptions that enable the viewer to make complex semiotic connections.
In a process of reworking, combining and accumulating, the artist weaves personal biography, collective memory and symbolically charged materiality into a deeply personal work complex that is nevertheless anchored in the communal psyche.