The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Kiefer’s ‘heaven and earth’

Imagine for a moment you are back in your high school history class. You learn about major wars and international events, and yet, when you get to, let’s say, 1940, what normally takes three months to cover, your teacher glosses through to 1950 in about a week.

What if you weren’t told about what had happened in one of the most pivotal decades of the twentieth-century? Worse yet, what if you were born the year WWII ended and were raised to feel guilty about your country’s involvement in past events but given no clue as to why?

These seemingly imaginary questions were the reality of contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer, whose work is on view at the Modern Museum of Art in Fort Worth through Jan. 8.

The works become very important in understanding how he has situated himself and his artwork in the last 35 years. While the exhibition, organized by the Modern’s chief curator, Michael Auping, is not a retrospective of Kiefer’s work, instead focusing on his work dealing with his interrelated themes of heaven and earth, the exhibition is chronologically thorough and gives the viewer a solid grasp over Kiefer’s oeuvre.

For Kiefer, the solution to answer the above questions was to figure it out on his own. The result of this exploration is art that was and still is highly controversial.

How do we look at burnt books created after the war by a German? The brilliance of Kiefer’s work, though, is that he uses that loaded vocabulary and turns it in on itself.

The book is an important symbol and thematic tool for Kiefer, and in his piece, “Cauterization of the Rural District of Buchen,” he burns these large burlap books to achieve a cauterization of the knowledge and information symbolically contained within them.

It would be remiss to only mention Kiefer in the context of the post-WWII German issues. His work defies pigeonholing and instead seeks a dialogue with far more universal concepts.

In choosing to focus on concepts of heaven and earth, Kiefer tackles the large and abstract, and yet, as Auping said, “This is not an exhibition about religion, but about why we keep looking for heaven and not finding it.”

These are big ideas and Kiefer responds by creating work large enough to convey its full weight. One cannot help but be overwhelmed, in the best sense possible, by the installation of his works at the Modern.

In a space that feels like it was made to house these paintings and sculptures, one moves from room to room, floor to floor and still feels like one is only scratching the surface.

As much as Kiefer’s work is about space and time, historical or not, it is more importantly about situation in place. In examining heaven and earth, Kiefer is continuously trying to map, to position.

Whether mapping the stars or in using the symbol of the book as a map of knowledge, Kiefer is trying to situate himself in the space of the world.

His use of symbols, whether from mythology or from the material world, including cages, frames, clay, metal, leaves, and tanks, contributes to this way of understanding the world around him. There is no one way of viewing and understanding heaven or earth. In the end it is in the layers and the fragments of many views that meaning is created.

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