Anselm Kiefer at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Or Why I Love Parsifal

Anselm Kiefer (represented by the Gagosian Gallery) was a frequently cited name in art history modules on my fine art degree. Most references that I recall concerned Anselm Kiefer and photography. I remember looking at some of his early works and thinking they were extremely powerful, sometimes shocking and melancholic but I didn’t really look much further.

[I’m not going to talk more on the subject of Kiefer and photography because I simply do not know enough to say anything or any merit! If you know any excellent websites or books please leave a comment below. Many thanks!]

Kiefer has been described as ‘one of the foremost figures of post-war painting’ (see here) but I think I understand what a member of crew at Baltic was getting at when she said Kiefer considered himself to be ‘a worker of materials’. Kiefer’s work is so physical. He isn’t limited by the ‘craft’ of painting he uses materials that best fit the theme of his work… dirt, clay, wire, wood-chip paper…

Palmsonntag (2006) Dimensions variable. Credit: ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008

What struck me most was that tension between real (or physical) and imagined (or painted) space can be felt in all of Kiefer’s works currently on show at Baltic. The Parsifal series are empty sets ready for the viewer to inhabit Palmsonntag goes further and becomes an installation.

[If you’ve been to Baltic’s show which piece struck you the most and why?]

I don’t get why I didn’t eplore Kiefer more on my fine art degree because I was really interested in staging scenes with a definite place for the viewer to survey the scene and that the scene should have a back (to break the illusion). I got the wrong idea because of those ‘Anselm Kiefer and photography’ tags.

I think that’s why I love Parsifal the most. Although Palmsonntag shows Kiefer’s use of materiality powerfully, the Parsifal series create the most tension between phsical and imagined space.

Parsifal III (1973) © Anselm Kiefer Available online at:

The paintings are flattened by the almost woodcut like marks on the surface of the stretchers but the strong linear patterns create a heightened sense of perspective; then the collaged surface reminds us its flat, and the dribbles that its erect.

The placement on the wall is like a storyboard, a chronology presented all at once and in a horizontal direction, not like time at all that is more immersive; the loft Kiefer rented represents his physical workspace, his mind (the symbolism of the loft as our headspace if you like), the journey from innocence to maturity in Keifer’s reality (A post war german school’s loft) and in the mythology of the story of Parsifal.

The story of Parsifal is summarized here.  I’m off to listen to Wagner’s interpretation! If you can get to Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead go now.

[Apparently on Level 2 there is a great kids version of the tale of Parsifal probably more friendly than wikipedia’s thorough summary]

Further References

You might want to look at the ARTIST ROOMS

Alteveer, Ian. “Anselm Kiefer (born 1945)”. InHeilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2008)

Anselm Kiefer on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art at the Met Musuem available online at

Anselm Kiefer: ‘The Independent wants to know if I am a Nazi!’


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