A major exhibition in Montreal in 2006! A Canadian First!

Gigantic, monumental, colossal—words aren’t big enough to describe the work of Anselm Kiefer. A major event in itself, the Anselm Kiefer exhibition will stand as a highlight in Montréal’s cultural life and, no doubt, in the history of the Musée.

The exhibition, the first major showing of Kiefer’s work in North America in twenty years, and the first ever in Canada, contains some forty pieces produced from 1969 to 2005: paintings, some of them as much as six metres in size, books, lead sculptures and works on paper. Subtitled Heaven – Earth, this thematic survey reveals the different layers of meaning suggested by the artist’s work of the past three decades exploring the dialogue between heaven and earth. It ponders a civilization in search of spirituality but grappling with the weight of its human condition, beyond cultures and religions. Buch mit Flügeln (Book with Wings), for example, is uplifting with its wings, yet earthbound with its thousands of kilograms of weight.

Kiefer is himself a monument in contemporary art. Born in Donaueschingen, Germany, just as the Second World War was ending, he is considered one of the most important and relevant artists of our day. Now based in Barjac, France, he continues to explore the fundamental experiences of human existence through mythology, history and time. To convey these rich historical and philosophical metaphors, Kiefer makes use of highly symbolic materials such as clay, ash, gold leaf, seeds, dried plants and lead.

The exhibition opens with the oldest Kiefer work extant, Die Himmel (The Heavens), 1969, a small book containing cloud and sky pictures cut out of magazines and pasted onto blank pages. This is followed by a series of works in which Kiefer introduces some of the symbols—trees, fire, artist’s palette, fallow fields, landscapes—he has employed throughout his career. These early pieces are also typical of the use he makes of his own image and his cursive writing, and his practice of freely combining symbols from various religious and mystical traditions. The show also includes several paintings from the artist’s Attic series of the 1970s, in which his wood-grained studio at the time—the attic of an old German schoolhouse—served as a stage for recreating mythological and historical events.

Among the different media Kiefer has worked with over the years, bookmaking has been a constant and central part of his art. His books have become free-standing sculptures, massive symbols of his investigations of world knowledge through images. The exhibition also includes five newly created works that have never been exhibited, mixed-media books that depict earth and stars. The artist’s books exemplify his process of combining seemingly disparate historical symbols and images. He has commented: “The book, the idea of a book or the image of a book, is a symbol of learning, of transmitting knowledge . . . I make my own books to find my way through the old stories.”

Kiefer’s art reflects his interest in humankind’s attempts throughout history to grasp the workings and mysteries of the cosmos. Be prepared for a physical and even metaphysical experience of staggering power.

His works, however, have been seldom seen in North America, and in fact this will mark his first exhibition in Canada.

Anselm Kiefer: Heaven – Earth originated at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, where it was organized by the Museum’s chief curator, Michael Auping. Paulette Gagnon, chief curator of the Musée d’art contemporain, is responsible for the Montréal presentation.

Curated by: Michael Auping