Skip to Main Content

Installation view of Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape

Sunday, November 17, 2013
Sunday, October 5, 2014

1905 Building

Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape explored the interplay of history, identity, and landscape in the work of one of the most important artists of our time. Several major works by Anslem Kiefer (German, born 1945) formed the core of the exhibition. These included the Albright-Knox’s newly acquired der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012, a monumental panorama inundated with wildflowers that proliferate in the landscape surrounding the artist’s studio complex in Barjac, France; die Milchstrasse (The Milky Way), 1985­–87, an iconic depiction of a desolate, barren field; and Von der Maas bis an die Memel, von der Etsch bis an den Belt (From the Maas to the Memel, from the Etsch to the Belt), 2011–12, a seascape of epic proportions on loan to the museum. These works, in their layered and complex iconographies, exemplified the artist’s career-long explorations of nationalism, identity, and cultural memory. As an ensemble, they invoked the politics of landscape—the precarious relationship between nature, history, and aesthetics.

Complementing Kiefer’s works was an installation of paintings and works on paper from the Albright-Knox’s collection that likewise featured landscape as a means of exploring a multiplicity of subjects and significations. The works in this section of the exhibition, by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jean-Marc Bustamante, Sandra Cinto, Gustave Courbet, Willie Doherty, George Inness, Emil Nolde, Sophie Ristelhueber, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Vincent van Gogh, and others, provided a context for exploring two salient themes in Kiefer’s practice that also reflect the modern landscape tradition: The Romantic's Landscape and The Political Landscape.

The museum invited the community to play an important role in the exhibition by participating in a dual forum for expression and exchange that will result in an accompanying book scheduled for publication in 2014. Content for the book was developed in two ways: online, the Beyond Landscape blog offered audiences a means of sharing observations, questions, and ruminations in text, image, video, and audio formats. Within the exhibition, a room dedicated to further learning, contemplation, and expression is equipped with reading materials, drawing and writing supplies, and computers provided visitors with immediate access to the Beyond Landscape blog as well as video and audio content about the artist and his subject matter. Albright-Knox staff members reviewed on-site and online responses and continued to share selected submissions on the blog throughout the run of the exhibition. All submissions through February 14, 2014, were be considered for possible inclusion in the book.

This exhibition was conceived and initiated by Director Janne Sirén and organized by Chief Curator Douglas Dreishpoon and Curator for the Collection Holly E. Hughes.

Exhibition Sponsors

This exhibition was made possible, in part, through the generous support of The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation and M&T Bank. Additional funding is provided by Scott and Rachel Stenclik and Linda Brown, MaddocksBrown Foundation.

Related Resources

Response Questions

Visit our Beyond Landscape blog to submit a response to Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape. All submissions through February 14, 2014, will be considered for possible inclusion in the printed exhibition catalogue.

We invite you to share your thoughts and responses in text, image, audio, or video. We welcome responses in any format, or you may use these questions as guidelines to structure your response if you wish.

  • What were your immediate thoughts when you first saw the works in this exhibition? How did your thoughts change after spending more time with the works?
  • Did one work stand out more than another? If so, why?
  • What does the term landscape mean to you?
  • What does it mean to stand on hallowed ground?
  • Why have artists throughout time pursued the landscape as a subject?
  • When does a landscape painting become political? Awe-inspiring? Spiritual?
  • Does your family have ties to a particular piece of land?
  • How does human memory bleed into the landscape?
  • How has humankind’s relationship with land changed over time?
  • How does culture influence our relationship with land?
  • How have artists’ depictions of the landscape changed over time? How have they remained the same?
  • How does war impact land and our ideas about landscape?
  • Is it possible to sustain our memories of a man-made landscape once it returns to nature?
  • When does a landscape symbolize a nation?

About the Artist

Anselm Kiefer’s artistic process is deeply tied to his European heritage, the natural environment that surrounds him, and the political context in which he works. His work draws deeply from European history, not as a direct reaction against the horrors of World War II, but as an exploration of the role of the past in shaping national and individual identities. Kiefer does not provide answers to the questions raised in his work: contradiction and paradox exist alongside and within traditional dichotomies (light and darkness, beauty and death), reflecting the ineffable complexity of the human condition.

The resources listed below offer varied views of Kiefer’s unique voice, his artistic motivations, and the lasting legacy of his work.

Anselm Kiefer: Artistic Creation
The Collège de France offers a variety of multimedia sources about Kiefer’s work, including video lectures, seminars, and lessons.

Anselm Kiefer Past Exhihitions
A collection of various feature stories on past Kiefer exhibitions from art blog Slow Muse. 

Artifacts—The Dinosaur in Anselm Kiefer
Times Magazine talks to Kiefer about his artistic methods, motivation, and influences.

Anselm Kiefer’s Studio 
An in-depth video tour of Kiefer’s studio in Barjac, France, a former silk factory where he worked until 2008, showcasing unique installations and works unseen in any gallery.

Anselm Kiefer Biography: Metropolitan Museum of Art
This brief biography summarizes Kiefer’s career, cultural impact, and critical reception.

Anselm Kiefer on Being an Artist: SFMOMA Video
In this series of interview excerpts from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Kiefer describes the path that led him to become an artist, or one who is “outside the world.”

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art: Kiefer on Work and Process
A video interview with Kiefer from September 2010 at the opening of his exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humblebæk, Denmark.


Landscapes often inspire in viewers nostalgia, feelings of longing or tranquility, even pride in land and country. Kiefer’s landscapes reveal layers of meaning beyond the simplicity of natural splendor: they become sites on which gestures of political power are played out, forging links between land and the nations whose histories overrun it. 

The Spatial Turn in Art History 
An academic article detailing the rise of landscape painting and highlighting connections between the natural or urban landscape and the sociopolitical environment it reflects.

Landscapes in Art
A basic guide to exploring the history, creation, and evolution of landscape painting, including trivia, games, and a gallery of celebrated landscapes.

Politics and History

The events of World War II and the shifting politics of power in postwar Europe, specifically the international response to the fall of Germany, have significantly influenced Kiefer’s work. The struggle to understand brutality and death on a global scale is internalized in the figure of the artist: “To paint is to have a war in the head,” he says, about the connection between art and themes of violence and destruction. In der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012, for example, a work that is a centerpiece of Beyond Landscape, the central tension exists between the depiction of a beautiful field of flowers and the deathly plan the painting references. Elements of history echo throughout Kiefer’s works, in this case a history of war, violence, and more recently, the emergence of new German identities. 

The Morgenthau Plan and Post-War Germany
The BBC presents an informative radio report on the Morgenthau Plan, emphasizing its forgotten status in international politics and history.

World War II: Interactive Map
This informative, interactive map depicts the progression of World War II as it sweeps across Europe from 1941 to 1945.

Henry Morgenthau
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides a brief biography of United States Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau and information about his role in the creation of the Morgenthau Plan.

Anselm Kiefer: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom 
In this short film from March 2012, Kiefer reveals the inspiration behind the creation of “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom,” his series of paintings featuring Chairman Mao against various epic backdrops, and the connection between these images and his early work on Nazi Germany. Please note: This film is very slow to play on certain browsers.

Psychology and Memory

Often incorporating the landscapes of Europe and imaginary landscapes the artist constructs, Kiefer’s work delves inward to investigate the interior world of memory and psychology. Many of Kiefer’s works demonstrate our ability to retain and reimagine stories from the past and to layer symbols and memories over specific histories represented by land: “I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland,” he says.

The Palette of Anselm Kiefer: Witnessing Our Imperiled World 
This article examines Kiefer’s interest in the twin forces of creation and destruction as well as the use of popular and mythological symbols in his work. Please note: This link opens a large PDF document.

A Review of Anselm Kiefer / Paul Celan: Myth, Mourning, and Memory 
A scholarly examination of Kiefer’s concept of a vertical, layered history in which memory and myth seamlessly intertwine. Please note: This link opens a large PDF document.

Michael Auping on Anselm Kiefer: SFMOMA Video 
Michael Auping, curator of Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, 2005, and chief curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery from 1984 to 1993, talks about Kiefer’s understanding of German identity.

Spirituality and Transcendence

An individual is a finite being whose experience is bound by the limits of perception and memory. Because death and decay are inevitable, spirituality becomes a way of enlarging one’s consciousness and forming connections to others and the world. In his works, Kiefer incorporates elements of mythology, religion, and spiritual traditions.

Trouble in Paradise
Simon Schama discusses the unadorned truth and urgency of memory in Kiefer’s works in this 2007 review from The Guardian.

Anselm Kiefer 
This look into Kiefer’s 2012 solo exhibition at the Essl Museum in Vienna, Austria, focuses on his use of various materials that reflect the decay of time.

Anselm Kiefer on Mythology and the Human Experience: SFMOMA Video 
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presents excerpts from a video interview in which Kiefer discusses the human need for mythology as a way of understanding our place in the world.

The Sublime in Crisis: Landscape Painting after Turner 
A wide-ranging study of the function of The Sublime in landscape painting.

Back to Top