German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer creates profound artistic exploration in his recent 2023 exhibitions, such as Finnegans Wake and Exodus which delve into the complexities of history, trauma, and the human condition. Through his monumental works, Kiefer grapples with the legacy of Nazism, offering a reflection on the Holocaust and the broader traumatic implications of totalitarian regimes and uplifting the importance of peace, bringing attention to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.peace,

Anselm Kiefer's impressive artworks, like the piece titled Für Paul Celan within his collection Anselm Kiefer: Exodus, showcased at the Gagosian in New York, portray the Zeppelin Field Grandstand. This architectural behemoth, designed by Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, is being preserved by the city of Nuremberg. The decision to maintain it is aimed at sparking ongoing discussions about the glorification of Nazi ideals.

Photo of Anselm Kiefer at work. Image courtesy of Thaddaeus Ropac.

In Kiefer’s painting, the grandiose of the Nazi architecture lay in ruins, haunted by its past. By employing these symbols of decay, Kiefer prompts viewers to wrestle with uncomfortable questions about history and the consequences of oppressive regimes. The painting's large size and use of various materials, including emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac, gold leaf, and more, create an immersive experience for viewers. These materials combine to give the painting texture, guiding the viewers' eyes from one section to another and encouraging them to spend extended periods contemplating the artwork. This contemplative space enhances the emotional impact, leaving a lasting message for future generations.

With the work’s title, Kiefer dedicated the piece to Paul Celan, a Jewish poet who survived the Holocaust, adding layers of meaning which emphasize the humanitarian failures of Nazi Germany through the lens of a survivor's legacy. Further showcasing how history’s impact is very much real and can still be felt as Celan’s poetry resonates today.

Für Paul Celan by Anselm Kiefer. Image courtesy of Hyperallergic.

In his piece Danaë, also a part of the Exodus, Kiefer used lead, gold leaf, and other malleable materials to portray the transformations of the Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. The depicted space was pivotal during the Third Reich and later repurposed during the Cold War. More recently, it has been utilized to offer temporary shelter for refugees, transitioning from a role in wartime to serving a humanitarian cause. 

The lead and gold pieces, discoloured by chemical reactions, create a metaphorical painting which emphasizes the alchemical nature of history, time, and artistic process. This material connects to the broader theme of redemption and the artist's role as a mediator between the tangible and the divine.

The piece’s title also connects the historical events to mythological narratives, emphasizing the cyclical nature of historical sites and human society that is not always malicious but can sometimes transform to serve the better good. 

Danaë by Anselm Kiefer. Image courtesy of Hyperallergic.

The artist's acknowledgment of the cyclical nature of time, evident in his use of symbols like natural decay and references to the rise and fall in history, resonates with the vision for peace. Kiefer's immersive installations, reminiscent of the grandeur of temples or cathedrals, invite viewers to contemplate the complexities of the human condition, promoting a dialogue that leans towards peace, justice, and the importance of strong institutions to prevent the recurrence of historical atrocities, all while acknowledging its troubling past.

In conclusion, Anselm Kiefer's artistic endeavours, as reflected in his recent exhibitions, serve as a poignant exploration of history and its impact on humanity. Through his monumental works, he engages with the legacy of Nazism, prompts reflection on historical trauma, and contributes to a broader conversation on peace, justice, and the necessity of strong institutions to safeguard against the repetition of past atrocities.

Other paintings in Exodus, Nehebkau (left) and Für Paul Celan (right) by Anselm Kiefer. Image courtesy of Hyperallergic.

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