Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)

Laßt tausend Blumen blühen (Let a thousand flowers bloom)

Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
Laßt tausend Blumen blühen (Let a thousand flowers bloom)
titled 'Laßt tausend Blumen blühen' (upper left)
oil, acrylic, shellac, charcoal and photographic paper on canvas, in three parts
overall: 98 3/8 x 230 3/8 x 3 7/8in. (252 x 585 x 10cm.)
Executed in 2012
White Cube, Hong Kong.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012.
Hong Kong, White Cube, Anselm Kiefer: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, 2012, p. 38 (illustrated in colour, pp. 26-27 & p. 38).
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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘A leader like Mao shows how impossible it is to write history’

‘Let a hundred flowers bloom, let one hundred schools of thought contend’

A monumental, near-sculptural panorama, comprising three separate canvases and spanning nearly six metres in width, Laßt tausend Blumen blühen (2012) is among the largest and most virtuosic works in Anselm Kiefer’s landmark series of the same title. Amidst a vast, tactile field of flowers, fossilised in thick, dried layers of oil, acrylic and shellac, the statuesque figure of Chairman Mao raises his hand in salute. Initiated at the turn of the millennium, nearly fifty years after the dictator’s first decade in power, the series explores the political manipulation of the Romantic ideal. The title is a deliberate misquotation of Mao’s famous statement ‘let a hundred flowers bloom, let one hundred schools of thought contend’. Throughout the 1950s, this seemingly liberal pronouncement was designed to encourage the citizens of the People’s Republic of China to speak out against the culture of his regime. It was a cunning, manipulative and ultimately successful abuse of poetic sentiment, intended to force all enemies to identify and condemn themselves. In Laßt tausend Blumen blühen, Kiefer transforms the ideological symbolism of the floral landscape into an image of political subversion. The flowers, encrusted with plastered impasto, are simultaneously visions of fecundity and ruin, laced with a sense of their own immanent decay. The standing figure, set against the sublime expanse of earth and sky, is both a nostalgic image of heroism and a portrait of futility: a cardboard cut-out, overgrown with rotting plant matter. His iconic raised arm – the ultimate authoritarian gesture – is rendered meaningless and absurd in the face of nature’s encroaching dominance. His form is frozen like an obsolete statue, turned to stone and left to the mercy of the elements. Both epic and entropic, the work embodies Kiefer’s belief that the Romantic landscape is permanently stained, riddled with the struggles, myths and diseased ideals of the past.

‘A leader like Mao shows how impossible it is to write history’, Kiefer has claimed (A. Kiefer, quoted in T. McEvilley, ‘Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom’, in Anselm Kiefer: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, exh. cat., Anthony d’Offay, London, 2000, p. 20). In Laßt tausend Blumen blühen, this premise is reflected in the similarly ‘impossible’ nature of Kiefer’s landscape. Whilst the works are painted over photographs taken on his travels through China in 1993, their blossoming pastures are based on a trip he made to the mountainous Auvergne region of France during spring. The figure of Mao, too, is an idealised construct, based not on photographs of the dictator but rather on the hundreds of prefabricated sculptures that populated China. Together, these hybrid sources create a kind of collaged dreamscape, whose constituent parts bear little organic relation to one another. Paint itself becomes the overarching ideology, binding their forms together with its dense, viscous textures. For Kiefer, born at the close of the Second World War in 1945, this visceral invocation of earth, soil and plant matter – trodden and trampled in battle – was a means of connecting himself to histories he had never known. Like many artists of his generation, Kiefer experienced the repercussions of war with no recollection of the conflict itself. As such, his dense material surfaces became a means of writing himself into the events whose traumatic echoes still hung in the air. In this regard, Laßt tausend Blumen blühen may be seen to look back to his early series of Occupations, in which the artist re-enacted the Nazi salute at various locations throughout Europe. In these works, as in the present, landscape painting is stripped of its innocence; a lost dream that – like history itself – is impossible to recapture.

Just as the European countryside had been polluted by the ghosts of war, flowers – in the wake of Mao – could no longer exist as expressions of beauty alone. For Kiefer, the plant and the flower, especially the rose, are ultimately symbols of eternity – of both the fragility of life and the unifying path the individual must make between heaven, 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, Kiefer’s flowers speak to the central hermetic truth of life – ‘as above so below’. Fludd’s belief that ‘every flower has its equivalent star in heaven’ is given poignant new meaning in the present work: as the image of Mao fades into obscurity, swamped by proliferating plant life, the flowers invoke the grandeur of the cosmos – something beyond any dictator’s control. From the arid soil and broken stems rises new hope: that – in the grand scheme of eternity – power is fleeting, transient and ultimately subordinate to the divine order of the universe. The dualities encapsulated in Laßt tausend Blumen blühen – those of landscape and history, bloom and decay, freedom and oppression, romanticism and nihilism – are fundamentally dwarfed by the overarching binary of heaven and earth, microcosm and macrocosm. As the thickly-worked petals protrude into three-dimensional space, so real we might reach out and touch them, the dictator’s raised arm morphs into a gesture of farewell.

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