A most highly regarded painter and sculptor among Postmodernists is German artist Anselm Kiefer (1945- ), considered a Neo-Expressionist who uses realism to create socially critical work. (Remember he was a student of Joseph Beuys…see previous post.)
Here is one of his more recent installations, a post-industrial atelier complex in the south of France, Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow. It was videoed by Sophie Fiennes in this documentary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zf63U1Rk0w. Kiefer left this studio complex in 2008 and moved to Paris. “His city” and artwork quietly wait for nature to take over, because, as we know, “over our cities grass will grow.”
About a year ago, Kiefer acquired the Mülheim-Kärlich Nuclear Power Plant, a decommissioned reactor near Koblenz–an appropriate site for an artist whose artistic social commentary is about expected destruction and the endless cycle of death and rebirth.
I am attracted to Kiefer’s work. He uses earthy materials to create metaphors–seeds, palm trees (Palm Sunday), dirt, straw, lead, ash, and now a hollowed nuclear reactor–images of brokenness and loss. His priest-like experiments and performances of pourings, baptisms, and burnings, attempt to bridge the gap between God and man. They are powerful allegories of death and renewal…and “redemption.” But his work as a whole is a vanitas symbol which proclaims the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.
While searching for an image of Kiefer burning a pile of his own artwork, I stumbled upon a blog by theology student and artist Neil Das. In this article featured in Catapult Magazine he discusses why art is important and why artists (like Kiefer) may fail to grasp Truth with a capital “T,” but do art that is “spectacularly creative and even ‘good’ in a sense.” He states that theology and art need not be at cross-purposes. They can and should together serve the purposes of displaying beauty and truth and glorifying God.
“One of the goals of art, it seems to me, is the opposite of the theological process. It is to create connections between categories, by either punching through walls of adjoining categories or even by creating worm holes between widely separated lines of thought, to allegorize in ways that try to apprehend truth in a different modality. Artists see connections that others do not, or perhaps a better way to say it is they are bold enough to experiment, to attempt to fit things together that seem to have no connection.”
To me, Kiefer’s art does this. His dirt and detritus and materials of the earth engage the heart and mind. His vanitas symbols preach the “vanity” theme of Ecclesiastes without the redemptive answer of Ecclesiastes.
Outside the Camp I
In 1998, I began a series called Outside the Camp. Cities in ruins were vanitas symbols. But unlike Kiefer’s work, golden under- painting and glimpses of hope come through the brokenness. Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
In later work, I incorporated an underlying grid signifying “the nets of God,” a God who rules a kingdom which cannot be shaken.
Uniting Word and Image, cities are important in my work. Bruegel’s Tower of Babel became the motif of my Global City Babel Series. Babel is the city of man in the antithetical war over the authority of words. Man’s desire for power and his propensity to believe a lie pits his words against the Word of God.
“The sea has come up over Babylon;
She has been engulfed with its tumultuous waves…”
See this series on my website:
Ironically my Babel motif (below) is similar to Kiefer’s new acquisition at Koblenz.
Babel, Sinai, Zion (detail) City of God/City of Man 36 x 36 inches
Speaking of the City of Man, Mumford and Sons won a Grammy Award last night for their album, Babel. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/music/la-et-ms-grammy-awards-2013,0,4507240.story
Rolling Stone review: “…the band’s lyrics, and Mumford’s delivery, that define the album’s sound. Babel is full of all manner of religious shoptalk, with Biblical metaphors swirling like detritus”… [perhaps like Anselm Kiefer’s biblical metaphors?]. On ‘Whispers in the Dark,’ Mumford declares an intention ‘to serve the Lord’ over a Riverdance bounce. Compared to unfreaky-folk-revival peers like the Avett Brothers or the Low Anthem, Mumford & Sons really double down on the ol’ time religion.”
A few months ago, I read Del Tackett’s ( Truth Observed) remedy for our constructed stories. “In the meantime, with all that is going on around us, beware of getting caught up in your own little story. If you find yourself angry, frustrated, discouraged, disillusioned, disappointed, depressed, bitter, complaining, griping, whining (what have I left out?), it is most likely because you have written your own script and the people around you don’t seem to be following the parts you wrote for them. Read Isaiah 46:9-11 and Philippians 2:13-15—several times. Be quick to toss your script. It isn’t about us. It’s all about Him and what He wants to do through you (and your art). Soli Deo Gloria!”
Power Issues (detail)