Episode #11: Caitriona Leahy on Anselm Kiefer

The artist Anselm Kiefer was born in Germany in 1945. In this interview, Caitriona Leahy opens up a new sidelight on the work of Kiefer, who is now one of the most prominent figures on the international art scene.

When he appropriates the work of the poet Ingeborg Bachmann in his own artworks, argues Leahy, Kiefer negates Bachmann’s literary project, which was to find a voice that could survive appropriation by others.

Anselm Kiefer, Innenraum (Interior), 1981.
Oil, acrylic and paper on canvas, 287.5 x 311 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Photo Collection Stedelijk Museum / copyright Anselm Kiefer

The larger context for this cultural coup is the post-war fate of fascism, which arguably does not end, but simply goes underground. The delicate work of cultural reconciliation between the Austrian Bachmann and her lifelong partner, the poet Paul Celan, whose Jewish family was murdered by the Nazis, is swamped by the scale and assertiveness of Kiefer’s monumental style.

Leahy’s unique perspective positions Kiefer as a national figure who embodies a particular version of Germanness with which official German culture is very comfortable.

This interview combines a beginner’s guide to the work and significance of Kiefer (particularly from 18 min onwards), while also demonstrating how literary analysis can be employed critically in the visual arts.

In the course of this critical commentary, Leahy also explains what makes Kiefer’s work so compelling and fascinating.

Further Viewing and Reading

  • Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (2010 documentary directed by Sophie Fiennes). Trailer here.

  • Gallery of works by Kiefer from the Tate Collection.

  • Images and other resources relating to Kiefer from Gagosian.

  • Article on the 2017 Kiefer exhibition at Copenhagen Contemporary.

  • Matthew Biro’s book, titled Anselm Kiefer, which we quote from at the start of this episode.

Feargus Denman and Caitriona Leahy

Caitriona Leahy is Assistant Professor in German at Trinity College Dublin. She has published widely on German and Austrian literature. This interview offers a preview of some of the ideas that will appear on her forthcoming book on Anselm Kiefer.