Acclaimed as the most important artist that Germany has produced since Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer belongs to the generation of expressionist German painting that emerged in the 1970s. Especially after the 39th Venice Biennale in 1980, where he represented Germany, his Kiefer's art has sparked worldwide debate and he has continued to produce the most powerful work in contemporary art. In the mid-1980s Kiefer came in contact with texts on alchemy and the Cabala (an ancient mythical Hebrew religion) which further enriched the artist's iconography and provided strong philosophical and poetic foundations for his art. When Germany united in 1991, Kiefer left his country never to return. Along with this self-imposed exile, the theme of German history that had been central to his earlier work shifted to embrace religious, mythical and philosophical texts and literary references.
The universal yet archaic themes that touch upon an impressive intellectual wealth of ideas that render the reading of his work ambiguous and difficult, is further elaborated by the very personal methods of visualizing his subject matter--Kiefer works with his material like a medieval alchemist transforming various material to create large mural size paintings and massive sculptures and installations.
The works installed in the Kukje Gallery display a wide range of materials used by the artist. Apart from canvas and oil paints, Kiefer uses photography, lead, ash, straw, human hair, miscellaneous plants and flowers (such as sunflowers), ash-covered clothes, and other objects. Kiefer is an artist for whom the suggestive symbolism of his material is very important and he particularly favors lead. According to medieval alchemy it is a metal that embodies memory; it is heavy yet soft, and malleable to lend itself willingly to the artist. Lead is used as a ground for paintings, as well as to shape giant books and installations of "libraries." Apart from the large installation titled Tannhauser, there are several lead book sculptures in the exhibition. Books reappear in Kiefer's art and are significant as records of divine prophecy, as documentations of civilization and the past, and the substance of the human intellect.
The symbolism in Kiefer's art, as well as the complexity of his iconography and subject matter, are now accompanied by volumes of dense writing to decipher his art. However his work has extraordinary "presence" that immediately captivates its audience and entices the viewer to engage in the intense experiencing of Kiefer's art.