Anselm Kiefer (Donaueschingen, 1945) is the most internationally acclaimed German artist at work today. Both cultured and complex, his work evokes the collective memory of his countrymen while serving him as a way into his own personal introspection.
The book of the seven celestial palaces (Sefer Hechaloth) returns to what, since the 1980s, has been one of his habitual touchstones: Hebrew spiritual literature and, in particular, the Cabbala. The staircase is used symbolically in a number of traditions to represent the soul’s ascent to heaven. Here Kiefer interprets this spiritual journey, anchored in the book as a symbol of knowledge and the transmission of knowledge. The large format and sparing use of muffled colours, also present in the paper and the lead included in the fabric, add to the solemn gravity of the work.
One of the key artists in the permanent collection of Malaga's contemporary arts centre Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC Malaga) is Anselm Kiefer (Donaueschingen, Germany, 1945). Kiefer is undoubtedly a leading figure in contemporary art anywhere in Europe today. The work he calls Seber Hechaloth (2002) is a remarkable showcase for his favourite resources and the motifs that inspire him. In his work, Kiefer draws on German mythology, alchemy, philosophy, the Cabala, the Bible and the recent history of his country.
Seber Hechaloth (Seven Palaces) is inspired by Jewish mysticism and the path the believer must travel to come to the Day of Judgement. This path is in fact a steep ascent, a sort of recreation of an individual, subjective vision of religion, in particular, of the principles of Jewish rites. The seven steps in this stairway are large books or manuscripts, which jut out from the work giving the impression of volume beyond the actual canvas. Kiefer has used this procedure in other works to create in them an optical and spatial illusion. Kiefer experiments with all kinds of materials and textures in his studio at Barjac, near Avignon, where he has worked for many years now.
The seven steps are in turn rooted in an idea that is clearly Jewish in inspiration: the book of the seven divine palaces or temples. Appreciable in the upper part of the work is the word Mercaba (carriage), which in Jewish religion translates as spirituality and which is the culmination of the ascent through the sacred books.
So we are invited to see in this work a vision of religion and the path that takes the believer to the Final Judgement, although, from the general look of the work with deteriorated manuscripts marked by fire and smoke, for Kiefer it may also mean that spirituality arises phoenix-like from destruction, that the Phoenix is always an option for rising above the immediate circumstances, however dire they may be. By extension, he speaks of the persecution and extermination suffered by the Jews in Nazi Germany and, for centuries, in the rest of the world.
Visitors seeing this work in the area called Apocalypse in CAC Málaga's permanent collection are prompted to think about their own beliefs, about the past, the present and the future, reflected in a vast canvas nearly four metres high by three wide. This is what Kiefer wants to show in what he does; this is the dialogue he wants to have with people viewing the work. For the artist, it is a path to reconciliation and a statement of cultural and personal identity.
Its presentation at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum amplifies the values of tolerance and communication between peoples, the permanent empathy that Kiefer's never pessimistic oeuvre demands. Clearly, it is a way of understanding religion that distances itself from the traditional canons to form part of what is most intimate and personal in each of us, of our beliefs and our spirituality.
Director, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Malaga (CAC Malaga)
Sefer Hechaloth, 2002
Oil, acrylic, emulsion, metal, paper and lead on canvas, 381,6 x 280,6 x 30,5 cm
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga