Montsalvat, 1981-1994

Collage, Tríptic 281.5 x 602 x 5 cm

Anselm Kiefer was born in Germany in 1945. He studied Law and French at the University of Freiburg, later studying at the Art Academy in both Freiburg and Karlsruhe. His birth year, 1945, marks the end of World War II, placing him within a generation of post-war Germans who have inherited the legacy of fascism and face the cultural negotiation of memory and German national identity. In this regard, his work must be contextualized in terms of Theodor Adorno’s 1949 statement and its reception: "After Auschwitz, to write poetry is barbaric."In the early 1970s Kiefer studied informally with the artist Joseph Beuys; yet unlike his teacher, he did not live the primary experience of the historical trauma of the Holocaust. Kiefer's photography, painting, and sculpture exemplify the dilemma of image, the inaccessibility and impossibility of historical representation, as he persistently probes the aesthetic and ethical concerns of a visual practice that problematizes "how to represent the unrepresentable" of German history.

The mytho-poetic and melancholic atmosphere of his work are traces of a process in which he simultaneously asks what it means to paint and what it means to be German in a post-Holocaust Germany. [1] His expressionistic pictorial vocabulary often aligns him with the "New Savages," a term coined by the art historian Wolfgang Becker and used to describe the work of German artists such as Georg Baselitz, A.R. Penk, and Markus Lüpertz. This large format triptych Montsalvat, produced between 1981-1994, transforms the flat surface of modernist abstraction into a space that combines and creates a topography of materials that includes sand, sunflowers, sunflower seeds, and string. Like many of Kiefer’s works that draw on myths of the Kabala, Alchemy and Germanic legends, Montsalvat of the Holy Grail refers to the legend of this sacred object. The Holy Grail was a symbol of faith in the middle ages and its legendary search was taken up and elaborated in the 12th century by writers such as Wolfram von Eschembach in his book Parzifal. Kiefer’s painting is an exploration of how mythical images work and probes how myth becomes history and history becomes myth. The painting also incorporates a preoccupation with time through the incorporation of nature’s changes — dried sunflowers — into the creative process.

[1] Lisa Saltzman. Anselm Kiefer and Art After Auschwitz (New York and Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp.1-16. Anselm Kiefer Montsalvat, 1981-1994


Technical details

Original title:
Registration number:
Kiefer, Anselm
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Paint, sand, sunflower seeds, clay, rope and other elements on canvas
Tríptic 281.5 x 602 x 5 cm (height x width x depth)
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
© Anselm Kiefer, VEGAP, Barcelona
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