The work of Anselm Kiefer (Donaueschingen, 1945), one of the most authoritative and influential contemporary artists, is characterized on the one hand by a recovery of the icastic qualities peculiar to Expressionism, developed through the use of themes and techniques inherent in the Germanic tradition, while on the other it has always stood for an original re-traversal of the recent German past, often combined with archaic myths and archetypes, ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to the themes of Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. Growing up as a child in the rubble of World War II, Kiefer attended Beuys’s courses in Düsseldorf (1970-72), which strongly influenced him and led him to recover the concept of art as catharsis, as well as a concern for the alchemical values of materials that have always animated his work: lead, wax, seeds, sunflowers, earth, and lacquers, dried flowers, bitumen, sometimes even the artist’s semen.
His works are always the result of a long, slow formal and conceptual elaboration, appearing thick and rugged, made vivid by dark, earthen colors, cracked, peeling and stratified. His works appear as palimpsests of memory, with a rough, strong handling, a leaden melancholy of evident Nordic derivation, despite some brightening of the palette and color tones that coincided with the artist’s transfer from Germany in the early 1990s to Barjac (in Provence) and Paris. Kiefer opens up painful gashes in a past not yet completely metabolized. His work short-circuits the ruins of history and revives myth, constantly poised between observation of the disasters of the past and a desire for a purifying rebirth, including the study of heroic myths, archaic legends and alchemical symbols which become figures, allegories and archetypes at the center of his complex Weltanschauung.
Elizabeth of Austria (1991), exhibited at Madre in the context of Per_forming a collection project, is a monumental work belonging to the series of leads, photographs transferred to metal that portray some of the protagonists of German history. Presented at the artist’s first exhibition at the Galleria Lia Rumma in 1992, the work depicts the image of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria (1837-1898), a recurrent motif in the artist’s poetic, the cousin of Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886), Visconti’s “Ludwig”, and sister to the last queen of Naples, Maria Sophie of Bavaria (1841-1925), wife of the Bourbon Francis II (1836-1894), nicknamed “Franceschiello” and briefly king of the Two Sicilies 1859-1861. In his long association with the city of Naples, begun in 1982 with the donation of a work for the collection Terrae Motus (Waterloo, Waterloo…), Kiefer’s relationship with Lia Rumma began in 1992; in 1997 he held a solo exhibition in the Sala degli Arazzi of the Museo Nazionale at Capodimonte, followed in 2004 by an exhibition at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.