Anselm Kiefer at SFMOMA


So we went up to the city to see the Kiefer retrospective, Heaven and Earth. It was pretty cool. I had several experiences at the exhibit that were cool, but one stands out in my mind especially.

I was with my friend, Ellen, who had come down for the exhbit from Washington and we were looking at some of Kiefer’s Attic Series between ourselves when this man approached us with whom we started a trialogue about Quaternity, a smaller Keifer (which means somthing like 7′ wide and maybe 8′ high) painting.

The man had a lot of information about Kiefer, far more than we did. It’s possible that he may have been making it all up as he went along, but why would anyone do that? Through most of the exhibit we would bump into him. It actually freaked me out a couple times. I had my journal with me (so cliché) so I could take notes on the things I liked. He noticed me writing in it.

He asked to look at it. Then he picked a blank page and dedicated a drawing to Justin & me. He was an artist, too, and Kiefer was (obviously) one of his favorites…….

I’m not so sure about all this, really. He seemed like a nice guy until he busted out a sleeepy teddy bear (with wings!) and its fluffy puppy.

This experience was so random and so out of context that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to separate Kiefer’s work from this man. I thought about this on the train home. What if he were Kiefer?

Art Stars are different than Movie Stars. I have no idea what Kiefer looks like. He could stand beehind me in line at the grocery, ask me a direct question about Britney Spears’ new haircut and I wouldn’t know the difference. This guy that kept bumping me around the museum was one of three things:

  • a lonely guy looking to make friends.
  • a raving psychopath looking to rob, rape or kill me, Ellen and our boyfriends or
  • Anselm Kiefer.
Just something to think about.

I really enjoyed the exhibit. The pieces were large – monumental, really, in size and content. The *smallest* paintings were six feet in any direction leaning well into the twenty foot range for many. It’s a genuine push/pull effect with Kiefer’s work: I wanted to get closer to it to examine the materials, but as I’d get closer I’d lose track of the piece as a whole. You can have one or the other, but not both.

I think my favorite was called Die Ordnung der Engel or The Hierarchy of Angels. It was made up of oil, charcoal & glue on (unprimed) burlap. I don’t know how big this was, but I’d guess somewhere between 20’x15′ and 28’x20′ or something. I don’t know. Big. It had all the good stuff: a propeller, some rocks, tape, glue, fabric, dirt and little strips of paper with names on them. Angelic bombs? Working stiffs?

On an opposing wall was Sefer Hechaloth, a piece that used books as steps in a staircase upwards (yet without any kind of real destination). Or maybe it leads downnwards. I liked that he used actual books or attached other regular objects to his paintings. I’ve always liked seeing that kind of thing.

He enjoyed the mixture of charcoal and glue which made this sort of “tar-like” substance. I can’t tell you how beautiful the textures of this combination are. Like lavabeds, the surfacees seemed to constantly heat, churn and cool, thus changing each landscape into a new, unfamiliar environment.

The sculptures were really, really cool. Some of them were upwards of fifteen foot books. For me, this was a cautionary tale. If we depend on the word as our only point of vision, then we’re captured by it and its author. The scale of the sculptures punctuated their importance. For instance, The Secret Life of Plants was probably 15 feet high. The human body could easily fit within the «leaves» of it. One could envelop themselves within the “words” of the “book”. Made of steel, the piece works into a metaphor of a book so great that nothing can penetrate its pages, like a suit of word armor.

Horrifying things have been executed in the name of words. Words that fill books. Books that fill schools. Schools that build cultures. Cultures that raise congregations. Congregations that reiterate words to execute power.

side note: I did a quick image search on Anselm Kiefer and the man who approached us in the museum and the man whose name is Anselm Kiefer that I saw on Google struck resemblances, but differences in age, which means nothing still. The enigma continues.


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