Airport, please! heading to Paris for the Anselm Kiefer exhibit Pour Paul Celan
« Celan does not merely contemplate nothingness, he has experienced it, lived through it. ».
Anselm Kiefer, June 2021
Fifteen years after inaugurating the Monumenta series at the Grand Palais in 2007, Anselm Kiefer is the first artist to realize a new project that involves the entire space of the Grand Palais Éphémère, at the invitation of the Rmn – Grand Palais. With Pour Paul Celan, Anselm Kiefer continues his work on European memory, in which both France and Germany are key players. In this exhibition, sculptures, installations and 19 large-scale canvases by Anselm Kiefer interact with the elusive poetry of the great German-language poet Paul Celan. Paul Celan’s work has been a constant presence in Anselm Kiefer’s paintings since his adolescence, when he discovered the poem ‘‘Todesfuge’’ (‘‘Death Fugue’’). It continues to still be so with this group of recent paintings. This dialogue has intensified in recent years, and particularly in 2020 during the time of lockdown.
In the age of the pandemic, the work of Romanian poet Paul Celan takes on special meaning. A prisoner in the concentration camps during the war, his life of solitary confinement and isolation echoes those suffering under the strictures of Covid-19. Paul Celan was born Paul Antschel in Czernovitz, Romania, to a German-speaking Jewish family. His surname was later spelled Ancel, and he eventually adopted the anagram Celan as his pen name. In 1938 Celan went to Paris to study medicine, but returned to Romania before the outbreak of World War II.
During the war Celan worked in a forced labor camp for 18 months; his parents were deported to a Nazi concentration camp. His father most likely died of typhus and his mother was shot after being unable to work. After escaping the labor camp, Celan lived in Bucharest and Vienna before settling in Paris. Celan was familiar with at least six languages, and fluent in Russian, French, and Romanian. In Paris, he taught German language and literature at L’École Normale Supérieure and earned a significant portion of his income as a translator, translating a wide range of work, from Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Emily Dickinson to Arthur Rimbaud, Antonin Artaud and Charles Baudelaire.
Though he lived in France and was influenced by the French surrealists, he wrote his own poetry in German. His first collection of poems, Sand from the Urns, was published in Vienna in 1948; his second collection, Poppy and Memory (Mohn und Gedaechtnis, 1952), brought him critical acclaim. Katherine Washburn, his translator, noted in her introduction to his Last Poems (1986): “The title of this book [Poppy and Memory] pointed with a fine vividness to the central predicament of Celan’s poetry—the unstable and dangerous union between Paul Celan, caught early in that sensual music of the Surrealists, pure poet of the intoxicating line, and Paul Ancel, heir and hostage to the most lacerating of human memories.”
While Celan is perhaps best known for his poem “Death Fugue” (or “Todesfuge”), although it is not necessarily representative of his later work. Reviewing the 1981 publication Paul Celan: Poems in the New York Times, Rika Lesser said the poem’s “richly sonic, dactylic lines (spoken by the inmates of a camp), while typical of Celan’s mastery of form, content, texture and sound, are hardly indicative of the direction his composition would later take.” As his career continued, Celan worked to “purge his poems of readymade contexts – whether historical, traditional or explicitly religious. The late poems still abound in allusions – private, hermeneutic, esoteric – but increasingly each poem becomes and creates its own context and the context within which Celan’s other poems must be read.”
Celan received the Bremen Prize for German Literature in 1958 and the Georg Buchner Prize in 1960. He suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1970.
Celan’s history and his life overlap with that of Anselm Kiefer and the connection between the two is palpable.
Anselm Kiefer’s monumental body of work represents a microcosm of collective memory, visually encapsulating a broad range of cultural, literary, and philosophical allusions—from the Old and New Testaments, Kabbalah mysticism, Norse mythology and Wagner’s Ring Cycle to the poetry of Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan.
Born during the closing months of World War II, Kiefer reflects upon Germany’s post-war identity and history, grappling with the national mythology of the Third Reich. Fusing art and literature, painting and sculpture, Kiefer engages the complex events of history and the ancestral epics of life, death, and the cosmos. His boundless repertoire of imagery is paralleled only by the breadth of media palpable in his work.
Kiefer’s oeuvre encompasses paintings, vitrines, installations, artist books, and an array of works on paper such as drawings, watercolors, collages, and altered photographs. The physical elements of his practice—from lead, concrete, and glass to textiles, tree roots, and burned books—are as symbolically resonant as they are vast-ranging. By integrating, expanding, and regenerating imagery and techniques, he brings to light the importance of the sacred and spiritual, myth and memory.
Anselm Kiefer was born in 1945 in Donaueschingen, Germany. After studying law and Romance languages, he attended the School of Fine Arts at Freiburg im Breisgau and the Art Academy in Karlsruhe while maintaining a contact with Joseph Beuys.
Kiefer’s work has been shown and collected by major museums worldwide, including the following: “Bilder und Bücher,” Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland (1978); “Verbrennen, verholzen, versenken, versanden,” West German Pavilion, 39th Biennale di Venezia, Italy (1980); “Margarete—Sulamith,” Museum Folkwang, Germany (1981); Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany (1984, traveled to ARC Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France; and Israel Museum, Jerusalem); “Peintures 1983–1984,” Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux (1984); and Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois (1987, traveled to Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Museum of Modern Art, New York, through 1989).
GRAND PALAIS EPHEMERE
Designed by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the Grand Palais Éphémère is a temporary building located on the Champ-de-Mars. Its wooden frame and its ecological virtues make it a remarkable building, firmly anchored in our time. A real architectural feat that fits into a site whose history is, like that of the Grand Palais, intimately linked to the Universal Exhibitions of the 19th and 20th centuries.
THE MORE THE LRFA BLOG KNOWS ABOUT THE PAINTING OF ANSELM KEIFER, THE MORE IT IS APPRECIATED FOR THE TRULY TRANFORMATIVE CHAOS UNCONVENTIONAL AND ITS OVERPOWERING BEAUTY CELEBRATORY OF HIS AND GERMANY’S LIFE AND PASSION, RIGOR AND FIGHT. NOW THAT I AM HEADING TO PARIS, I WISH THE RAPID SSTS WERE STILL IN USE.