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Anselm Kiefer Interview

What kind of person creates large, stormy, war-filled paintings and sculptures? Artist Anselm Kiefer is not "the vehement and unpredictable man" you might associate with his troubling artwork from the 1970s and 80s, according to Philippe Dagen. His interview with Anselm Kiefer ("Pour survivre, je crée un sens, et c'est mon art", August 4) appeared recently in Le Monde. (Kiefer now resides in the southern French town of Barjac, in the Gard, where he has been creating a large installation of work in a hillside studio. He answered the journalist's questions mainly in French, with some reference to English and German for nuance.) Here are a few excerpts (my translation):

To reconstruct a place: is this the meaning of the work you have carried out here on your property, these galleries that you have dug out of a hill?

I could answer that this work, in Barjac, is first of all a way to go beyond the four sides of the painting. And I could repeat that I do not intend anything implied by the definition "total art work," which has been contaminated by Nazism. But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland. But we should also not forget the difference between what first motivated me and the work that is the result.

What do you mean?

The reason for this project comes from my childhood, that is clear to me. I did not have any toys. So, I played in the bricks of ruined buildings around me and with which I built houses. But this is not really important in the end, because the work here gets in between that reason and what is being built. I could explain that difference in another way, by the distance that exists between two German verbs, bauen (to construct) and wohnen (to inhabit, to live). Heidegger tells us that they have etymological roots in common, and yet they connote two distinct attitudes. With wohnen, there is a sense of stability, in bauen there is action.
The new work involves images that evoke the shapes of runes, which reminded the interviewer of Kiefer's work from the 1980s, which referred to German history.
[Kiefer:]To the Nazi era? Yes, sure. There were so many idiotic theories during the Third Reich, including about runes... The Nazis polluted absolutely everything that was not cartesian or clear: everything that could seduce confused minds.

So here we are talking about Nazism again, as we have so much regarding your work...

In fact, it is all people talk about. It has become obsessive.

Does that bother you?

No. When, at the end of the 1960s, I became interested in the Nazi era, it was a taboo subject in Germany. No one spoke about it anymore, no more in my house than anywhere else. I discovered it thanks to educational programs broadcast by the Americans, recordings of speeches by Hitler and Goebbels... The taboo status had lasted 25 years, and it was time to end it. I felt that instinctively.
Kiefer had an exhibit in Milan recently, The Seven Heavenly Palaces, of towers similar to the work in Barjac. Of course, a big Kiefer retrospective is coming to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth this fall, from September 25 to January 8. After going to Montreal, it will come to the Hirshhorn here in Washington, next summer, and to San Francisco after that. We're looking forward to it. What I don't know is if one can visit the installation at Barjac (the place itself is called La Ribaute, near Barjac) or if there any images of it. (I found one photograph.)

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