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Meditations No. 4: Anselm Kiefer

In late 2016 I traveled to Finland for a major Anselm Kiefer exhibition. The most dazzling piece for me was “Essence Ekistance”, a monumental painting, even by Kiefer’s standards, evoking the Alps of Central Europe, and taking up three walls of a gallery room.

Encrudded, cracked and stained, trowled and sledged; the sheer physicality of the paint belies the miracle of cold light and atmosphere that it evokes. To transform such thick layers of oil into something luminous is a masterful feat; it draws us in as we encounter mysterious forms, symbols and objects of lead, protruding from the canvases.

Kiefer collapses myths (“Noah” scrawled across the top left of the left panel) with modern history (a lead submarine protruding from the left panel) and alchemical symbols. His subject is no less than all of human history subject to continual state of decay and corrosion…