Anselm Kiefer: Rolling on the River Rhine

Book Review

  • Anselm Kiefer: The Woodcuts

  • Edited by Antonia Hoerschelmann
  • 160 pages, 71 color illustrations
  • Published by Hatje Cantz Verlag Ostfildern, Germany, 2016
  • $60

Internationally renowned for his paintings, drawings, sculptural artists books and oversized (and often overpainted) prints, Anselm Kiefer requires little introduction. In German-speaking countries, however, the artist remains a controversial figure, glorified and condemned for his persistent use of subjects and formats linked to the Nazi regime and to the Germanic dreamtime it repeatedly invoked. In 2016 the Albertina in Vienna mounted an exhibition of 35 monumental Kiefer woodcuts made between 1977 and 2015; that show and its substantial catalogue will continue to fuel this discussion long past the exhibition’s closing date.

Apart from six sheets relating to the 17th-century Paracelsian scholar Robert Fludd and the relation between micro- and macrocosm, all the woodcuts on view dealt with the iconography of the Rhine and with German history—events of the 20th century and also the myths, histories and legends that were used to bolster the idea of a pan-German identity: the cult of the Niebelungen and the assertion of the Rhine as a metonym for the German people; and role of the forest and Arminius’s (Hermann’s) routing of Roman occupying forces at the battle of the Teutoburg Forest in the year nine.

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