Lasst 1000 Blumen blühen (Let a thousand flowers bloom!) is one of an important series of millennial paintings made by Kiefer in 2000 that explore the political manipulation of the Romantic ideal. Created at a pivotal time in history, these works are themselves pivotal in that they both look back at the path and origins of Kiefer's own art and forward to his, then, most recent work invoking the mystic idea of the individual as both medium and mediator between macrocosm and microcosm.
As in so much of Kiefer's work, this idea is expressed through a stark and simple contrast between earth and sky formally united by a lone standing figure, in this case Chairman Mao. In this respect, these works in particular, echo the very first of Kiefer's works, his Occupations, in which the artist himself had re-enacted the Nazi salute at various locations throughout Europe, reinvoking and reinvestigating a past history that he, born in 1945, had never known, but had inherited. Combining the same nostalgic sense of romanticism in its juxtaposition of the lone hero/individual/dictator set against the vast and sublime expanse of the world, Lasst 1000 Blumen blühen is similarly and ultimately an image of futility - a portrait of a statue-like King Canute attempting to hold back the waves.
'A leader like Mao shows how impossible it is to write history' Kiefer has said of the series, meaning that while it is evidently true that it is impossible to write history under a leader like Mao, it is also equally impossible for an individual, even all-powerful dictator such as Mao, to write/dictate history. (Anselm Kiefer cited in Thomas McEvilley 'Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom', Anselm Kiefer: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, exh. cat. London 2000, p. 20.) The basic duality of Kiefer's statement is also invoked in the paintings themselves, many of which depict Mao saluting or commanding a vast field of flowers. Mao's famous statement 'let a hundred flowers bloom, let one hundred schools of thought contend' was made in 1957 to encourage the citizens of the People's Republic to speak out against the culture of his regime. It was a cunning, manipulative and ultimately successful abuse of romantic sentiment made by a man who himself both painted and wrote poetry, intended to encourage all enemies to speak out and in so doing both identify and condemn themselves. Mao's 'hundred flowers' were all subsequently cut down.
For Kiefer, the plant and the flower, especially the rose, are symbols of eternity - of both the fragility of life and the unifying path the individual must make between heaven and earth, life and death. From his early paintings of Siegfried and Brunhilde to the celestial sunflowers of his Rosicrucian-inspired paintings derived from Robert Fludd, the flower symbolizes the central Hermetic truth of life - 'as above so below' - as expressed by Robert Fludd's belief that 'every flower has its equivalent star in heaven'.
In this context, when Kiefer depicts Mao surrounded by a seemingly infinite field of flowers, the iconic but almost cardboard-cut-out figure of Mao, becomes strangely absurd. And in this painting, where real roses extending outwards from the canvas appear to be blooming as if from the heavens themselves and a crude statue-like figure of Mao stands like an obsolete colossus of Stalin or Lenin from the Cold War era, the ultimate futility of authoritarian power is made clear. A striking 20th C icon of power standing with his arm raised as if both commanding the heavens and stuck frozen in time amidst the flux of new life, this stone-like figure of Mao seems to perform a suitably simultaneous gesture of both farewell to the past century and a hail of greeting to the new.