Liliths Töchter (The Daughters of Lilith) is a vast painting that was made by Anselm Kiefer as the central work for the exhibition entitled 'Lilith' held at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York in May 1990. The first major showing of Kiefer's work to be held after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, this exhibition introduced, in the persona of Lilith, a major and long-running theme in Kiefer's work which, appropriately for the time, addressed, through an invocation of the Kabbalah, a primordial notion of creative renewal taking place in the very heart of emptiness and desolation.
The paintings in this landmark exhibition, with their vast ashen expanses of apparent emptiness, dust, vague dilapidated architectural structures, empty clothes and leaden miniature airplanes conjure visual associations with images of the Holocaust and of the bombed-out ruins of Europe in 1945. As is illustrated in Liliths Töchter with its handwritten inscriptions of the attributes of the Kabbalistic Sefirot on the empty cap and gown of one of Lilith's 'daughters' suspended at the front of this vast canvas, it is a Kabbalistic understanding of Lilith that Kiefer has invoked in these works.
Babylonian in origin, Lilith, in Jewish tradition, is often described as the first wife of Adam who, when God refused her equality, rebelled by pronouncing God's ineffable name and running away to the shores of the Red Sea to live in exile from Paradise. In Kiefer's work throughout the 1990s it is this image of Lilith as a kind of melancholic presence haunting cities and ruins like a specter - a primordial remnant of God's Creation, seemingly condemned to wander through the imperfect and temporal realm of man - that Kiefer appears to celebrate and invoke.
With its added images of a snake-skin - indicative of change and resurrection - hanging from one of the shirts and an image of the Milky Way - the spiral galaxy within which the Earth resides, this sense of micro and macrocosmic change and of a constant spiraling upwards and downwards amidst an ashen emptiness and, by implication, the invisible structure of the Sephirotic tree is compounded. "More important than the hierarchy of the angels," Kiefer told Michael Auping in 2004 about this very aspect of his work, is "the concept that the spiritual realm is a spiral going up and down. So the spiritual realm is moving and twisting. This is important to the way I organize my pictures. I work with the concept that nothing is fixed in place and that symbols move in all directions. They change hierarchies depending on context" (A. Kiefer, interview with M. Auping, October 5, 2004, Barjac in Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth exh. cat., Fort Worth, 2005, p. 172)
At first sight, the enormous panel seems heavily imbued with an overwhelming sense of material, earthbound weight, its fragmented remnants of humanity indicative solely of a ruined civilization and an overall sense of devastation. It is only the smaller elements of this vast painting reaching high up above the viewer's head, that indicate otherwise. The strange title of the work and the inscriptions of the divine attributes of the Sephirotic tree handwritten in order on the child's cap and gown, along with the photograph of the Milky Way with its upward pointing arrow suggest the apparent upward ascension of these gowns in contrast to the weighty lead, downward pointing airplanes. It is in this way that Liliths Töchter articulates the law of eternal recurrence and a pervasive sense of hope - that out of the ashes of one world, a new one is always born.
Laura Paulson, Deputy Chairman, Americas, and Senior International Director of Post-War and Contemporary Art, discusses Anselm Kiefer's Lilith's Töchter. [Audio]