By Shay Harrelson
Anselm Keifer is a German artist, born two months before the German surrender in 1945, whose sculptures combine traditional materials—such as metal and plaster—with less traditional ones such as concrete, cloth, and plant life in monumental sculptures and installations, mainly dealing with the Holocaust and his life in Germany at the tail end of World War Two. While mainly known for his paintings, his sculptures’ use of multiple mediums and their sheer size makes them very unique, and are very successful—more so than his paintings in some respects, though they too are monumental in size—in the exploration of aforementioned topics.
One such work is Die Erdzeitalter (Ages of the World in English), which is a combination of metal, found objects, and thin concrete slabs, all stacked together precariously and is approximately 10 to 12 feet tall and wide (no exact dimensions found). An interesting feature of this work is that it is an installation in the center of the room with paintings of the sculpture surrounding it and so while the paintings are just in one medium, they amplify the sculpture’s depiction of time and history.
Large and monumental is definitely the name of the game with Keifer, one of the smallest sculptures he has, an untitled piece with the subtitle of Secret Life of Plants, is a painted and inscribed lead sculpture about three feet by four feet by four feet. With is desire to have Germans face their past that they are ashamed of, making his pieces extremely large serve to demand attention, the pieces cannot be pushed to the side and forgotten; their heavy weight, just like the country’s history, cannot be moved and must be faced if they want to continue on.
This combination of mediums is not limited to his sculptures, however, he also builds off his paintings, such as Von den Verlorenen gerührt, die der Glaube nicht trug, erwachen die Trommeln im Fluss (The drums in the river came alive, beaten by the lost ones, who were not supported by faith in English) a 14 by 25 foot piece wherein a large section of a concrete staircase is laid across the painting, which is partially covered by sand as well as the paint, sticking out by about three feet. While this may seem incongruous and a combination of mediums and objects that should not be combined, the colors and the use of sand on the canvas itself as well as the precarious and almost delicate placement of the staircase block work to bring the piece together.
This use of multiple mediums and unconventional and nontraditional items in works of art, the pushing of the boundaries of each medium and seeing how they interact and play off each other, really appeals to me as this is definitely what I enjoy doing in my own work and want to explore more (especially using nontraditional components such as organic matter and textiles), but maybe not on such a large scale as Keifer employs.