Tournesols1996Woodcut, shellac, and acrylic on canvas
442 x 360 x 4.5 cm
Born in Germany just months before the final European battle of World War II, Anselm Kiefer grew up witnessing the results of modern warfare and the division of his homeland. He also experienced the rebuilding of a fragmented nation and its struggle for renewal. Kiefer dedicated himself to investigating the interwoven patterns of German mythology and history and the way they contributed to the rise of Fascism. He confronted these issues by violating aesthetic taboos and resurrecting sublimated icons. In one of his earliest projects, his 1969 Occupations (Besetzungen) series, Kiefer photographed himself mimicking the Nazi salute at various sites during a journey through Switzerland, France, and Italy. Subsequent paintings—immense landscapes and architectural interiors, often encrusted with sand and straw—invoke Germany's literary and political heritage; references abound to the Nibelung legends and Richard Wagner, Albert Speer's architecture, and Adolf Hitler. Beginning in the mid-1980s, and especially following his move to southern France in the early 1990s, Kiefer's iconography expanded to encompass more universal themes of civilization, culture, and spirituality, drawing upon such sources as the Kabbalah, alchemy, and ancient myth.
Sunflowers (Tournesols, 1996) belongs to a series of images that Kiefer created by juxtaposing the fossilized forms of dark sunflowers with the image of a naked man. While the figure bears a significant resemblance to the artist, the man is usually identified as Robert Fludd (1574–1637), an English philosopher and Occultist who believed that every plant in the world had its own equivalent star in the firmament, and that there was a connection between the microcosmic world of the earth and the macrocosmic world of the heavens. (Fludd's ideas also inspired Kiefer's book For Robert Fludd [Für Robert Fludd, 1995–96], in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao collection.) This image similarly implies a linking of the individual to the surrounding cosmos.
Nancy Spector. "Anselm Kiefer." In Spector, ed. Guggenheim Museum Collection: A to Z. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2009.
Miguel López-Remiro. "Anselm Kiefer." In Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection. Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; Madrid: TF Editores, 2009.
"Anselm Kiefer." In The Permanent Collections of the Guggenheim Museums. Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2007.
Woodcut, shellac, and acrylic on canvas
442 x 360 x 4.5 cm
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa