In a major new building and exhibition partnership with MASS MoCA, in September of 2013 the Hall Art Foundation opened a long-term installation of sculpture and paintings by Anselm Kiefer in a specially repurposed, 10,000 square-foot building at MASS MoCA.
The exhibition includes Étroits sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow are the Vessels), (2002), an 82-foot long, undulating wave-like sculpture made of cast concrete, exposed rebar, and lead; The Women of the Revolution (Les Femmes de la Révolution) (1992/2013), comprised of more than twenty lead beds and a large-scale lead sheet with photograph; and Velimir Chlebnikov (2004), a 1,000 square-foot steel pavilion containing 30 paintings that deal with nautical warfare and are inspired by the quixotic theories of the Russian mathematical experimentalist Velimir Chlebnikov.
Anselm Kiefer, who first visited MASS MoCA in 1990 when it was still in the early planning stages, ranks among the best-known and most important of post-World War II German artists living and working today. Born in 1945 in southern Germany during the final days of the collapse of the Third Reich, Kiefer experienced divided postwar Germany firsthand. Across his body of work, Kiefer argues with history, addressing controversial and even taboo issues from recent history with bold directness and lyricism. Kiefer often turns to literature and history as prime source material for his work, as he did, for example, in the suite of paintings that comprise Velimir Chlebnikov (2004).
Kiefer’s works are often realized in large formats, which in turn demand special exhibition spaces (as is the case in the current installation). The artist often builds his imagery on top of photographs, layering his massive canvases with dirt, lead, straw, and other materials that generate a “ground” that reads literally of the earth itself. Within these thick, impastoed surfaces Kiefer embeds textual or symbolic references to historic figures or places: these become encoded signals through which Kiefer invokes and processes history.
A law student, Kiefer switched his studies to art in 1965 and held his first solo exhibit in 1969. During the early 1970s he studied with conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, whose interest in using an array of cultural myths, metaphors, and personal symbolic vocabulary as a means to engage and understand history inspired Kiefer. The artist has described his own art-making process as stimulated by Beuys’ philosophies: “Painting, for me, is not just about creating an illusion. I don’t paint to present an image of something. I paint only when I have received an apparition, a shock, when I want to transform something. Something that possesses me, and from which I have to deliver myself. Something I need to transform, to metabolize, and which gives me a reason to paint.”
Like Beuys, whose works were often constructed of fragile, organic materials (including blood, fat, and honey), Kiefer’s works often incorporate unusual, fugitive materials such as ash, clay, and dried plant materials. With their rough-hewn textures and expansive narrative formats that often evoke charred landscape and historical, sometimes apocalyptic settings, Kiefer’s work did not conform to the pared-down Minimalist or Conceptualist movements that were becoming mainstream at the time he was a student. Instead he created massive, dark paintings, books constructed of large sheets of lead, and figurative works that explored German folklore and were inspired by Caspar David Friedrich, among others. Poetry (especially the work of Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachman) has played a key role in shaping Kiefer’s themes of German history and the horror of the Holocaust, as have the theological concepts of Kabbalah. In addition to paintings, Kiefer also produces drawings, watercolors, object-filled vitrines, woodcuts, and theatrical set designs for the stage.
After establishing large studio practices in Germany and then Barjac (in the south of France), Kiefer now lives and works primarily in Paris. His 2007 commission by the Louvre for the monumental stairwell connecting its Egyptian and Mesopotamian antiquity galleries was the first permanent installation there by a living artist since the 1953 commission of three ceiling panels by Georges Braque. Recent exhibitions include a large retrospective which traveled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2007, Kiefer was commissioned to create a site-specific installation of sculptures and paintings for the inaugural “Monumenta” at the Grand Palais, Paris.
“We may well rotate or augment this initial installation from time to time,” says Andrew Hall. “We’ve enjoyed working closely with Anselm and his studio on the content and design of this particular iteration, and look forward to other possibilities.”
The Hall Art Foundation at MASS MoCA is open seasonally, with opening hours that align with other MASS MoCA galleries (11am-5pm daily, except Tuesdays).
Please visit MASS MoCA’s website for further information