PRINT Summer 1981

A Note on Anselm Kiefer

A PROJECT BY ANSELM KIEFER follows on the next six pages. Although Kiefer’s picture constructions are not illustrations of history, it is useful (but only that) to know that this particular work takes the epic of Gilgamesh as its dramatic mise-en-scène. Kiefer’s surface reference here is a point along the journey of Gilgamesh and his servant companion Enkidu that took them into a forest with a mountain that was green from cedar trees. One motive that prompted this expedition was the need for timber, with which Gilgamesh could display his power by building great walls and temples. The monumental structures required long beams, for which tall cedar trees were perfect. Conquering the evil Humbaba, the monster who guarded the green mountain and roared with breath of fire, was the other reason for the journey.

Kiefer’s books and paintings always express both cultural history and art history as open-ended, unstable and continuously renewed. These two histories operate simultaneously in this artist’s work: the topographical markings on these pages are as likely to be outlines of a painter’s palette as they are cedar growth-rings; the light on the characters’ faces is as much a fact of photography as it is a reflection of the pessimism inherent in Mesopotamian stories, in which heroes depend on, kisses or curses from the gods; and the paths and trees represent contemporary pastoral pictures of what may be the woods near Kiefer’s country house (or even woods brought in for studio setup shots) as much as they construct the outer bounds of earth and reality.

Ingrid Sischy