Anselm Kiefer Through a Glass Darkly: Myth, Medium, Material, and Memory

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesPublic Engagement – Public lecture/debate/seminar


The first of a series of talks based on 5 major German Artists. The Courtauld modelled this series on my work on the 5 key German artists of ARTIST ROOMS and I helped Dr Anne Puetz put together the programme, suggesting all the speakers in the series.


Anselm Kiefer has spoken of the need he felt as a young man to retrieve the dark history of National Socialism from a German educational curriculum that made these turbulent years feel distant and abstract, and deliberately so. Kiefer’s infamous performance 'Occupations' (1969), with its photo-documentation of the artist giving the forbidden Nazi salute in various European locations, addressed this problem in the most provocative way imaginable. Some of these photographs were used for the creation of unique artist books and paintings entitled 'Heroic Symbols' (1969-1970), as well as a photo-essay in the conceptual art magazine Interfunktionen published in 1975. Kiefer has reutilized these photographs for other artworks, and in moving to Paris in 2007, he rediscovered a few hundred negatives from his 1969 performance that had never been developed. This led to new work, including a Gagosian Gallery installation (2010), in which these enlarged photographs on lead sheets could be glimpsed through the half-open front and side doors of a steel container, giving rise to bleak associations of gas chambers and cattle trucks, a forbidden archive of faded images. The doors are only half-shut because the artist seems to be resisting the closure of what Jorge Semprún has called, in relation to his fellow Buchenwald survivors, the ‘cycle of active memory’. Partly based on my Royal Academy interview with the artist, and including my own unique photographs of his astonishing Croissy-Beaubourg studio, I will consider the ways Kiefer’s earliest body of work has continued to resurface in his artistic practice.
Period24 Apr 2018
Event typeOther
LocationUnited KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Anselm Kiefer