Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)

Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen [The Five Foolish Virgins]

Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen [The Five Foolish Virgins]
titled '5 törichten Jungfrauen' (on the stretcher)
oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac and mirror fragments on photo paper mounted on canvas
93 ¼ x 134 in. (237 x 340 cm.)
Executed in 1983.
Galerie Paul Maenz, Cologne
Céline and Heiner Bastian, Berlin
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Private collection, United States
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 2002, lot 42
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 1987, p. 119, fig. 75 (illustrated).
Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Venice, Museo Correr, 1997, pp. 248 and 417 (illustrated in color).
Cologne, Galerie Paul Maenz, Anselm Kiefer, January-February 1984.
Düsseldorf, Städtischen Kunsthalle, Anselm Kiefer, March-May 1984, p. 120, no. 46.
Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d'art contemporain, Anselm Kiefer Peintures 1983-1984, May-Septmber 1984, p. 27 (illustrated).
Nationalgalerie Berlin, Staaliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Anselm Kiefer, March-May 1991, pp. 38 and 161, no. 4 (illustrated in color).

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

A key figure in the Neo-Expressionist painting revival during the late 20th century, Anselm Kiefer steeps his work in the multi-faceted history of his German heritage. Working through the events that shaped his homeland, the artist draws upon literature, photographs, and art history as a basis for his inquiry. Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen is a dramatic example of Kiefer’s work with architectural subjects that mixes expressive paint application with references to the destruction of World War II as well as the Kabbalah. “Kiefer’s art is the unique expression of a highly personal situation prompted by his interests and consciousness and yielding images in which historic awareness, metaphysical longings and the notion of human subordinacy to existence constitute the material of the predominating question: how to render this human experience into image” (W. Beeren, quoted in “Anselm Kiefer: Recuperation of History,” in Anselm Kiefer: Bilder 1986-1980, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1986-1987, p. 8). Coming to terms with the aftermath of Nazi rule in Germany on both a personal and more socially-conscious level, Kiefer examines the ways in which people reconcile the past. Often combining his oil paintings with materials like straw and mirrors (which is the case in the present work), the artist builds up physical layers in his work that stand in for the hazy march of time within the mind of the viewer.

Monumental in scale, Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen is a multi-layered assemblage of various media. Underneath this heterogeneous surface, a sharp image strains to break free. The entire composition depicts the image of a room with two doors, windows, or recessed walls on the right and a series of angular protrusions that extend to the left. A wild application of gold, black, and ashen white make up the majority of the color in the work with a slight turn to bronze in some areas. Five pilasters, their fluting barely visible through the cacophony of Kiefer’s brushwork, stand in bright tones, the ghostly white-gray dripping toward the floor; a fragment of mirror is attached to each one, refleecting the world back upon itself. Between them, black panels edged by white extend from the wainscoting to the cornices. Above the two openings on the right, what could be murals are rendered in vaporous strokes of the brush. The entire scene gives one the feeling of peering through a room on fire. Flames whip into the scorched walls and gnaw at the architecture as smoke fills our sightline. “Burning is absolutely elemental,” Kiefer notes, “The beginning of the cosmos that we have conceived scientifically began with incredible heat. The light we see in the sky is the result of a distant burning. You might say heaven is on fire. But also our bodies are generators of heat. It is all related. Fire is the glue of the cosmos. It connects heaven and earth” (A. Kiefer, quoted in, “Interview with Michael Auping”, October 5, 2004, Barjac, Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, exh. cat., Fort Worth, 2005, p. 172). By combining the transitory nature of fire with the lasting power of grand buildings, Kiefer constructs a conversation about the destruction of history and the fallibility of memory.

The subject of Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen is biblical in nature, a topic that features prominently in Kiefer’s oeuvre, especially after a trip to Israel in the early 1980s. Translated as ‘The Five Foolish Virgins’, the artist references a parable told by Jesus Christ and related in the Gospel of Matthew. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, or the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, is a reminder to be ready for the end of times and Judgment Day. In it, a bridegroom is coming to visit for a procession or wedding, and ten women are asked to light the way with lamps. Five of the virgins have brought enough oil for their lamps to last until the man’s arrival and five have, foolishly, forgotten to do so. When the five lamps of the latter eventually go out and they must go searching for more oil, the bridegroom arrives and the five prepared women are rewarded while the others are not. The parable itself is often related on the façades of cathedrals, and was popular in architectural layouts for its meaning as well as its innate symmetry and visual counterpoint. Kiefer’s columnar shapes perhaps represent five figures carved into the corners of an interior or exterior wall, but the artist is certain to muddle and obfuscate any discernible figuration so as to more completely focus on the abstraction of space within his work.

Kiefer’s influences are as storied as his paintings’ surfaces. Though he originally planned to study law, he became a student of the painter Peter Dreher in the mid-1960s before going on to study at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. There he met Joseph Beuys, an artist who shared Kiefer’s interest in myth and history as it related to the German experience. In the 1980s, the artist began to draw more from the works of the poet Paul Celan, especially his memorializing poem, “Todesfuge (Death Fugue)”, which was composed in response to the Holocaust. In a cycle of paintings, Kiefer expanded on Celan’s bemoaning of the destruction of architecture during WWII as a stand in and commentary on the lives lost. However, the painter is reticent to give absolute meanings to his compositions, noting, “I can only make my feelings, thoughts, and will in the paintings. I make them as precise as I can and then after that you decide what the pictures are and what I am” (S. H. Madoff, “Anselm Kiefer: A Call to Memory,” Art News, vol. 86, no. 8, October 1987, p. 130). By positioning himself as such a nebulous figure, Kiefer is able to leave the conversation open-ended enough to incite different readings and understandings based on the viewer’s personal needs and experiences.

Born in Germany during the last year of World War II, Kiefer was surrounded by the wreckage and rubble of that catastrophic conflict throughout his childhood. Witnessing firsthand the destruction of the Third Reich and seeing monuments built under the Nazi regime dismantled and laid to waste, architecture became an important catalyst for the artist to think about the war’s fallout and its effect on Germany’s (and the world’s) population. Art historian Mark Rosenthal wrote about this attachment in Kiefer’s works, noting, “Melancholy and elegy are Kiefer’s principal leitmotifs and inform an understanding of his work. But Kiefer’s examination of grieving is oblique; he seeks metaphors for his profound sense of loss and for the ways this emotion is enacted. In particular, architectural monuments play a powerful role in his pictorial world” (M. Rosenthal, “Stone Halls 1983”, in Anselm Kiefer: The Seven Heavenly Palaces 1973 - 2001, exh. cat., Basel, 2002, p. 51). By using building and façades as anchors for his compositions, Kiefer roots his work in the physical world while dealing with ideas of loss, memory, and historical trauma.

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