Go Back

Hirshhorn Museum Presents East Coast Debut of “Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth”

Friday, May 19, 2006

Media only:
Gabriel Einsohn (202) 633-2822; einsohng@si.edu
Donna Drew Sawyer (202) 633-4765; sawyerd@si.edu
Public only:
(202) 633-1000
Media Web site:
http://www.hirshhorn.si.edu/museum/press.asp
Media Preview:
June 21, 1-3 p.m. R.S.V.P. to Gabriel Einsohn

The first survey of Anselm Kiefer’s work in almost two decades, “Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth” will be on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden from June 22 through Sept. 10. The selection emphasizes the layers of meaning in the artist’s work and specifically focuses on his career-long meditation on the relationship between heaven and earth. The exhibition is comprised of 40 major paintings, watercolors, books and sculptures created between 1969 and 2005, including two recent paintings from Kiefer’s studio in Barjac, France, that have never before been seen in public and will only be shown at the Hirshhorn. Key paintings from private and public collections in Europe and North America also are on view in the exhibition. “Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth” is made possible by the global financial services firm UBS.

Organizing curator Michael Auping, chief curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, explains, “This is not an exhibition about religion, but about why we keep looking for heaven and not finding it.”

The son of an art educator, Kiefer was born in Donaueschingen, Germany, in 1945, during the final months of World War II. In 1965, Kiefer began to study law, because he was fascinated by its philosophical aspects. He spent three weeks at the Dominican monastery of La Tourette in France, which was a turning point for Kiefer, who decided to abandon law studies to pursue his growing interest in art. He enrolled at the university in Freiburg, Germany, and later studied informally in Düsseldorf, Germany, with artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), whose use of unusual materials and references to history, mythology and religion influenced the younger artist’s work.

Kiefer uses images and symbols from ancient Egyptian, Greek and Nordic cultures; Jewish mysticism; early Christian theology; and medieval treatises on alchemy, which he often relates to modern history, particularly Germany’s Nazi era. The result is art that is complex with numerous layers of meaning. Even the materials in Kiefer’s works have significance. He combines traditional painting media (oil, acrylic paint and watercolors) with natural elements such as clay, ash, straw, dried plants and various metals, particularly lead. Often he obtains materials from historical buildings or politically significant locations, such as the lead roof from the Cologne cathedral, which was bombed in World War II. Such associations make his materials as symbolically charged as his imagery. Kiefer favors materials that contain inherent paradoxes. Lead, for example, is very heavy yet also is quite malleable and easily bent. In “The Ash Flower” (1983-1997)-the largest painting in the exhibition-a dried sunflower hangs upside down before a vast architectural arcade from a Nazi-era building. The fragility of the flower evokes the destruction of the war era. In addition to their visual richness, Kiefer’s materials invite personal reflection and interpretation.

A series of watercolors and oil paintings installed in the first few galleries introduce many of the symbols-forests, barren fields, fire, palettes and grandiose architecture-that Kiefer continues to employ throughout his career. In several works the artist combines symbols from various religious and mystical traditions with his own image and cursive script, thereby conveying his interest in the possibilities of personal healing and transformation through artistic acts and self-expression. The paintings “Resurrexit” (1973) and “Quaternity” (1973) depict parts of Kiefer’s studio, which at that time was in the attic of a former schoolhouse in Germany. In “Quaternity” three flames and a snake represent good and evil, creation and destruction-central themes in Kiefer’s subsequent works. “Jerusalem” (1985-1986) is an abstract composition suggesting both violent struggle and spirituality in the city significant to three of the world’s major religions. Two sword-like forms made from lead float before a background of gray and are illuminated by flashes of gold leaf, symbolizing the possibility of transcendence. The two materials together allude to alchemy.

Kiefer uses the motif of a book as a symbol of the accumulated wisdom of human knowledge, as well as the controversies and influence books have on society. The large painting “The Book” (1979-1985) shows a book hovering over a barren landscape. Made from sheets of lead, this book contains no writing or images; it evokes a biblical vision of disaster while it also symbolizes possible redemption through knowledge. Many of Kiefer’s large paintings incorporate three-dimensional objects, like an airplane propeller in “The Hierarchy of Angels” (1985-1987). Freestanding sculptures made from lead also are included in the exhibition. In “Book with Wings” (1992-1994), the book remains flightless despite its seemingly ethereal wings. “Meteorites,” (1998-2005) a massive steel bookcase with lead books, appears to have been assaulted by heavy fragments of metal from space.

Stars appear often in this exhibition, in paintings, sculptures and books. “Star Fall” (1995) presents the artist lying on the ground, facing the starlit heavens. “The Secret Life of Plants” (2001) is an enormous freestanding lead book illustrated with innumerable stars, some of them labeled with the numbers given by astronomers. For the artist, stars and plants allude to the eternal process of transformation, from creation to destruction to regeneration.

Kiefer lent two recent paintings to this Hirshhorn exhibition. “Sefer Hechaloth” (2005) depicts a staircase to heaven. Some steps consist of books made from paper, some charred or deteriorated. The title comes from the Jewish mystical Kabbalah text that, roughly translated, means the “book of heavens.” The last painting in the exhibition is “Leviathan” (2005). In this painting, a small rusty submarine floats in a luminous seascape where water and sky become indistinguishable in a tumult that suggests an inspirational experience.

The exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from Oct. 15-Jan. 14, 2007. The presentation at the Hirshhorn is coordinated by curator Valerie Fletcher. The exhibition was organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas. Additional support was provided by the Holenia Trust in memory of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, the Friends of James and Barbara Demetrion Endowment Fund, the Hirshhorn’s Board of Trustees and Robert Mnuchin.

About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian’s museum of international modern and contemporary art, includes some 11,500 paintings, sculptures, mixed media installations and works on paper. The Hirshhorn offers an active exhibition program and an array of free public programs that explore the art of our time. The museum, located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W., is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25) and admission is free.

About the Sponsor

UBS and the Visual Arts
UBS has a longstanding and ongoing commitment to the support of arts. A cornerstone of our philosophy is a belief that art is an inspiring force that benefits the full range of human endeavor. One of the firm’s most visible commitments to the arts is its internationally renowned collection of contemporary art. Like all fine art, The UBS Art Collection illustrates the integral combination of insight and passion to create something lasting and meaningful. These are the very qualities that enable UBS to be a leader in the financial arena: the passion that inspires us to understand our clients’ needs, and the insights we apply in creating proactive solutions to help them pursue their goals.

The UBS Art Collection encompasses more than 900 works, including paintings, photographs, works on paper and sculpture, all by major artists of the latter part of the 20th-century. Hailing from America and Europe, artists in the Collection range from the earliest generation of Abstract Expressionists to young artists who emerged in the 1990s. UBS is proud of this heritage of collecting and embraces the Collection as a treasure to be shared with our employees, clients, shareholders, and other individuals passionate about art through international loans and tours of selected works. UBS recently announced a dynamic three-year partnership with Tate Modern. The partnership, which officially launches in May 2006, will enable Tate to rehang its permanent Collection for the first time since it opened in 2000. In addition, Tate Modern curators are to be given access to works from The UBS Art Collection for a special series of featured displays that will complement and strengthen the gallery’s own permanent Collection.

Works from the Collection have recently been the focus of exhibitions at the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Another major exhibition of selected works was shown at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in early 2005 to celebrate UBS’s gift and loan of works to the Museum. To further share our Collection with the public, UBS provides permanent on-line access to works in the Collection, information on the artists, and online exhibitions via an interactive web museum at http://www.ubs.com/artcollection.

UBS also has a long and distinguished record as a worldwide sponsor of important programs in the visual arts, and these sponsorships reflect the firm’s dedication to investing in cultural expression and making the arts accessible to clients, employees and the general public. For more than a decade UBS has sponsored Art Basel, considered by many to be the world’s leading contemporary art show. Since 2002, this important partnership has extended to Art Basel Miami Beach, a sister event that brings contemporary works from galleries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia to Miami’s Art Deco district. UBS also partners with leading museums to support major modern and contemporary art exhibitions around the country. Current sponsorships include:

- “Chuck Close: Self-Portraits” 1967-2005 at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (Through June 18, 2006)

- “Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (June 22 – September 10, 2006) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (October 21, 2006 – January 21, 2007)

- “Sean Scully: Wall of Light” at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Through May 28, 2006) and the Cincinnati Art Museum (June 24 – September 3, 2006)

- “Constructing New Berlin” at Phoenix Art Museum (Through September 24, 2006)

In addition to the visual arts, UBS is also a significant supporter of orchestral music globally. UBS is the exclusive season sponsor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and is a supporter of the London Symphony Orchestra and the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra. We are also proud to sponsor a number of leading orchestras across the United States.

UBS, one of the world’s leading financial firms, is the largest wealth manager, a top tier investment banking and securities firm, a key asset manager and the leader in Swiss retail and commercial banking. Headquartered in Zurich and Basel, UBS employs more than 70,000 people and has offices in 50 countries. It is a Swiss public company listed on the SWX Swiss Stock Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE). In the U.S., UBS is one of the biggest private client businesses with a client base of nearly 2 million private clients and approximately 7500 financial advisors in over 350 offices.

< Back to Press Releases

This entry was posted in . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.