Born in Germany just months before the final European battle of World War II, Anselm Kiefer grew up witnessing the results of modern warfare and the division of his homeland. He also experienced the rebuilding of a fragmented nation and its struggle for renewal. Kiefer dedicated himself to investigating the interwoven patterns of German mythology and history and the way they contributed to the rise of Fascism. He confronted these issues by violating aesthetic taboos and resurrecting sublimated icons. In one of his earliest projects, his 1969 Occupations (Besetzungen) series, Kiefer photographed himself mimicking the Nazi salute at various sites during a journey through Switzerland, France, and Italy. Subsequent paintings—immense landscapes and architectural interiors, often encrusted with sand and straw—invoke Germany's literary and political heritage; references abound to the Nibelung legends and Richard Wagner, Albert Speer's architecture, and Adolf Hitler.
Untitled (The Rhine) (Ohne Titel [Der Rhein], 1982) has two distinct parts. Along the bottom is the Rhine River, a frequent symbol in Kiefer's works of the late 1960s. Kiefer, who was born and raised along the Rhine, here recalls the iconic value it held within both Romanticism and the nationalist movements that followed. Over the river looms a building whose style evokes that favored by the Nazi regime, as embodied by the work of architects such as Speer and Wilhelm Kreis. Kiefer thus juxtaposes the flow of nature, as represented by the river, with the formal aesthetic dogmatization that Nazism endeavored to impose as a standard.
A further allusion to German history is communicated by the medium itself: woodcutting is a traditional technique in German art, from the great Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer to 20th-century Expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. This work consists of different woodcut prints mounted on canvas to produce the full image, with the edges between them slightly visible. The artist has further emphasized the medium through the device of the printed wood frame that surrounds the image.
Nancy Spector. "Anselm Kiefer." In Spector, ed. Guggenheim Museum Collection: A to Z. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2009.
Miguel López-Remiro. "Anselm Kiefer." In Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection. Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; Madrid: TF Editores, 2009.
"Anselm Kiefer." In The Permanent Collections of the Guggenheim Museums. Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2007