German, born 1945
(die Milchstrasse) The Milky Way, 1985–87
Emulsion paint, oil, acrylic, and shellac on canvas with applied wires and lead
150 x 222 inches (381 x 563.9 cm)
In Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, General and Restricted Purchase Funds, 1988
Anselm Kiefer was born the year World War II ended, when both the landscape and psyche of Germany had been severely damaged. As an artist, Kiefer confronts this history directly in his work, unlike many of his contemporaries who chose to avoid it. He set out to study why human beings behave the way they do, feeling that art could help to answer these types of questions and in doing so perhaps make the world a better place.
After creating numerous paintings that were often very dark, small elements of light began to emerge in Kiefer's work, such as pieces of real straw embedded in thick, dark surfaces. Later, in works like The Milky Way, even more hope appears as a white gash in the earth seems to spread golden light across the burned field. Near the center is a three-dimensional funnel, which in Kiefer’s work generally represents a speaker to God—any God. The artist was raised in a Catholic family but now professes no religion although he has studied and learned from many, both past and present. The fact that the funnel is made of lead is also significant, adding a reference to the medieval practice of alchemy, the unachievable endeavor to change base metals like lead into gold. There was a philosophical side to alchemy as well, representing concepts like the transformation from material to spiritual or, more generally, changing a thing of little value into something priceless. So out of the devastation of war emerges hope for the future.
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