Anselm Kiefer: Artworks as reconciliation

A new Anselm Kiefer show will bring Germany and Israel closer together

German shakes hands with Jew. A major exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Anselm Kiefer, a man born a Catholic in a small village in the Black Forest during the last year of the Second World War, opens today in the new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the very building in which Ben Gurion declared the independence of Israel in 1948.

"It is an act of reconciliation," he explains. "I am striving for a kind of reunification." It is also a ghostly reminder of all that has been lost: during the 1920s there was a profound collaboration between Jewish and German culture. "Those who carried this culture have perished by the hands of others," Kiefer explained at the opening of the exhibition. "I try in my own way to reverse this irreversible and brutal self-mutilation, knowing that this too is impossible..."

As an artist, Kiefer has been engaged with Jewish mysticism, the Bible and the idea of the nationhood of Israel for more than a quarter of a century. As a child, he was fascinated by images of Samson, Abraham and others by Gustave Doré. In 1983 he visited Jerusalem for the first time. Looking out from his window in the King David Hotel, he could see the Mount of Olives to the left, and the desert to the right. The shock he felt at that moment felt like the beginning of a kind of initiation. "I felt myself suddenly propelled to a crossroads, where the layered sediments of a 4,000-year-old universal history superimposed themselves upon my own personal history." The iconography of Catholicism, he recognised, was profoundly bound up with its sources in Judaism. He began to study the Kabbalah, and the founding cosmic myth of Lurianic Kabbalah, shevirat ha-kelim (the breaking of the vessels), which gives the exhibition its title.

Breaking and mending. There is much evidence of violent making and unmaking in the work of Kiefer. The installation which takes its name from the title of the exhibition shows us stark images of the building of knowledge – and the unbuilding of violence. Ranks of lead books hang from a metal frame and, scattered indiscriminately across the floor which stretches away from those books, we stare at strewings of shattered glass.

The paintings on the walls look like huge fragments wrested from a heavily contested battleground. Every painting is bruised, pitted, scarred. Textures are densely re-worked. Some of them are so heavily encrusted with paint that you feel for the conservators. Kiefer puts paintings through their paces, coating them with water, slathering them with mud, attacking them with an axe when the mood seizes, subjecting them to the ministrations of the flame-thrower. All this seems entirely appropriate, given their themes – Ararat, Samson, Cain and Abel. The Old Testament was a bloody, vengeful arena. The physical state of these paintings feels at one with their themes.

Many of these densely textured paintings, all realised on an enormous scale, begin in hallucinatory landscapes or seascapes (or somewhere in between). At first glance they remind the onlooker of the 19th-century romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich or Turner. Everything seems to be yearning towards sublimity and a kind of turbulent symphonic excess. Mountains rear balefully. Fields scored by furrows seem to be receding towards infinity. But these paintings never end in landscape. Nor do they begin or end at any particular historical moment. The totality of the history of human conflict seems to have been poured into them. A painting called Samson includes both an allusion to the biblical Samson – a representation of the gates of Gaza – and a rusting machine gun (with Samson's name painted on it) whose presence here reminds us of Israel's war of independence.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there