Essays by James Hyman

Anselm Kiefer Works on Paper

Anselm Kiefer Works on Paper


James Hyman
Print Quarterly


In 1995 the Metropolitan Museum purchased fifty four works on paper by Anselm Kiefer, which they believe to be at least a quarter of all such works released by the artist from his studio between 1969 and the late 1980s. Although this claim is surprising given the artist's prodigious output, the range of this collection is impressive as was demonstrated by a powerful exhibition at the Metropolitan (December 1998-March 1999) and a rich accompanying publication: Anselm Kiefer Works on Paper from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nan Rosenthal's detailed analysis makes this book an invaluable contribution to Kiefer scholarship. Whereas there has been a tendency for previous studies and exhibitions to marginalise paper-based works in favour of large-scale paintings and sculptures, Rosenthal's book makes the case for more detailed study of all aspects of Kiefer's production.

The chief significance of this publication for readers of Print Quarterly lies in its in-depth coverage of the handful of woodcuts now owned by the Metropolitan Museum and the contextualisation of these works alongside other paper-based works including watercolours, over painted photographs and collages. Following an introductory essay, works are assessed one by one.

Rosenthal is generous in her acknowledgements of my own Print Quarterly essay on Kiefer as printmaker, from which she draws heavily, but despite some overlap, Rosenthal's study is complementary. To my own studies, with their focus on the medium and the implications of its usage for the content of Kiefer's work, Rosenthal adds a greater range of historical references. These provide a lucid exposition of Kiefer's attitudes to history, heroism and the legacy of Nazism, including the realised and unrealised architectural projects of the Third Reich. This unpacking of Kiefer's diverse source material is the chief strength of this book. However, on a number of points I would challenge Rosenthal's reading.

All in all, however, Rosenthal's is a sophisticated reading of Kiefer's works on paper. As such, it stands as a major addition to our knowledge of one of the most ambitious artists of our time.

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