Language of Birds - Anslem Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer Exhibition in London

“Rubble is like a blossom of a plant” Anselm Kiefer 2008

If this sparks your interest then you are in for a treat. This week the Anselm Kiefer exhibition opened at the Royal Academy in London. It is his first ever retrospective in the UK and provides a unique opportunity to see some of his finest work.

As you walk up the stairs to the RA’s main gallery you see a physically imposing, intellectually thought-provoking and curiously beautiful sculpture: “The language of birds”. It welcomes you, with its huge outstretched wings, to the intriguing and beautiful world of Anselm Kiefer.

Anselm Kiefer is a German artist. Born in 1945 he grew up in post-war Germany near the Rhine and Black Forest. Something that has shaped his art ever since. He constantly confronts the past, addresses taboos and explores controversial issues with themes of fire, forests, myths, cosmetology, alchemy and transformation. Kiefer is often described as an intellectual artist and there are a lot of references to myths, history, poetry and religion in his work, which reflect the artist’s interests and reading material. But one does not need to decode all these layers nor try to fathom the meaning of each piece to enjoy his art. They speak volumes with or without their intellectual references and background. Through the curator, Kathleen Soriano we learn that for Kiefer “Art is an attempt to get at a central truth”. In fact through his work that Kiefer has dedicated his life to reclaiming German art, music, architecture and culture back from its negative associations with the Nazi regime.

The exhibition brings together keys works including his controversial Heroic Symbol Series (1970); Shulamith and Margarete (1981) – two works based on the poem Death Fugue by Paul Celan; and The Orders of the Night (1996). There are several new pieces that have been created specifically for this exhibition and with the RA space in mind, including the Morgenthau landscapes and a mixed media installation “Ages of the World”. In Room 9 Lead becomes the canvas and the artist makes his own universe with diamonds representing the stars. These are beautiful works and Kathleen Soriano explains that they “suggest we are at the centre of our own individual worlds, each with our own perceptions and understanding of that unique context”.

The final rooms of the exhibition show work that has been created in the last 18 months. There are 7 large landscape paintings, the canvases of which are wonderfully rich in colour and celebrate life and the bounty of the land. Here the world, which has often been depicted as rather barren in previous works, is a more vivid and vibrant place. Yet they are no less provocative and are heavy with historic relevance. Their inspiration coming from Tandaradei a poem by the German poet Walther von der Vogelweide and from the Morgenthau plan, a post-war plan proposed by the USA to deindustrialise Germany and turn it into a purely agricultural nation.

Reviews and opinion may well be divided over the exhibition, as Kiefer is considered to be one of the finest artists of our times by many and the exact opposite by others. I think the exhibition is well worth seeing and I thoroughly recommend the audio guide.

Anslem Kiefer is currently on at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until the 14th December 2014. For more information visit: or click here.
Foot notes and Credits: Image: Language of Birds – The Royal Academy of the Arts in London.