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inscribed ‘Behemoth’ (upper left)
oil, shellac, acrylic, lead and aluminium on canvas
74 3/4 x 130 x 15in. (190 x 330 x 38cm.)
Executed in 2003
Galerie Bastian, Berlin.
Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 21 June 2007, lot 61.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Dresden, Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Madonna Meets Mao Selected Works from the Yageo Foundation Collection, Taiwan, 2008 (illustrated in colour, p. 49).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. Please note that at our discretion some lots may be moved immediately after the sale to our storage facility at Momart Logistics Warehouse: Units 9-12, E10 Enterprise Park, Argall Way, Leyton, London E10 7DQ. At King Street lots are available for collection on any weekday, 9.00 am to 4.30 pm. Collection from Momart is strictly by appointment only. We advise that you inform the sale administrator at least 48 hours in advance of collection so that they can arrange with Momart. However, if you need to contact Momart directly: Tel: +44 (0)20 7426 3000 email: This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Tessa Lord
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Lot Essay

A monumental composition more than three metres wide, Leviathan (2003) is a spectacular work that forms part of Anselm Kiefer’s epic artistic dialogue with history, myth and religion. Using a rich, textural compound of oil, shellac and acrylic, Kiefer creates a churning blue-grey ocean, its surface carved with deep whorls that ripple across the canvas. Strands of twine drift across the water, like flotsam after a great flood. The sea swallows the picture to its horizon. The word Behemoth, in Kiefer’s distinctive cursive script, hovers at the upper left. Afloat in the centre is a vessel formed of crumpled, oxidised lead, with tiny metal aeroplanes strung from its hull. Leviathan and Behemoth refer, in Christian and Jewish tradition, to two gargantuan monsters of the land and sea; Leviathan is also the title of Thomas Hobbes’ 1651 treatise of political philosophy, and the name of a German ocean liner that played an important role in the First World War. Kiefer’s immense, near-sculptural works enact a reckoning with history that he sees as vital for the soul of postwar Germany. While it touches on the traumas of the twentieth century, Leviathan is also emblematic of the later shift in his practice towards an expansive, wide-ranging exploration of ancient folklore, alchemy, esoteric symbolism and spiritual belief systems. Building a vast edifice of physical, metaphysical and referential layers, Kiefer uses art as a way of coming to terms with the world.

In Rabbinic literature, Leviathan is the sea-serpent who swallows Jonah—the word in modern Hebrew translates to ‘whale’—and whose flesh, along with that of the land-monster Behemoth, will be served up in a banquet for the righteous at the end of time. The Book of Job describes him as an indomitable beast with fiery breath that causes the sea to boil like a cauldron. In William Blake’s mystical Christian epic Jerusalem, Leviathan and Behemoth are both pictured as terrible forces that exist within man himself, explaining the incessant warfare of the human world. Blake narrates their creation by the Spectre, part of man’s psyche: ‘Rolling the sea in rocky paths, forming Leviathan and Behemoth, the war by sea enormous and the war by land astounding, erecting pillars in the deepest hell to reach the heavenly arches’ (W. Blake, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804-1820, plate 91, lines 39-42). It is an image that resonates profoundly with the present work, whose tumultuous surface seems to collapse heaven and earth, fusing land and sea in one massive, stony scape of whirlpools and vortices.

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, written during the chaos and violence of the English Civil War, proposes that the natural state of humankind is an anarchic ‘war of all against all’, and argues for a social contract with an absolute sovereign as protector. Its famous frontispiece imagines Leviathan as a crowned giant formed of hundreds of human figures. Kiefer dealt directly with the relationship between state and citizens in his 1987-89 work Census (Leviathan), produced in the wake of protests against the West German government’s attempts to introduce a nationwide census viewed by many as invasive and Orwellian. A vast steel container filled with sixty million dried peas, the sculpture evoked the horrors of human transportation under the Third Reich. For Kiefer, born in the final months of the Second World War and raised in its ashamed aftermath, the dangers of submitting to an all-powerful leader are all too clear. The present work’s Leviathan is dwarfed by the mighty ocean around it, as if figuring the hubris of the totalitarian mindset, adrift amid the ultimately ungovernable forces that direct the fate of mankind.

With the work’s maritime setting, Kiefer also alludes to another role played by the name Leviathan in twentieth-century European history. The German ocean liner Vaterland (Fatherland), launched in 1913 as the largest passenger ship in the world, began life transporting travellers between Germany and New York on the Hamburg-America Line. Following the United States’ entry into the First World War in 1917, Vaterland was seized by the U.S. government and converted to a troop ship, whereupon it was renamed Leviathan. During the war, Leviathan made ten round trips, transporting more than 119,000 troops to Europe. It was later retained by the Americans as war reparations, lending its original patriotic name an enormous irony. This allusion transposes the wider notions of human conflict, divine judgment and monstrosity suggested by the mythical Behemoth and Leviathan into a specific historical context, furthering Kiefer’s probing of the contingencies of national identity and collective memory.

With the leaden Leviathan voyaging across an endless seascape, Kiefer invokes the passage of human destiny across time. His trademark incorporation of lead—indebted to the shamanic use of materials such as fat and felt by his predecessor Joseph Beuys—invokes the weight and density of history, but it also, as the base matter for alchemy, proposes artistic substance as the basis for change. To perform alchemy, for Kiefer, is to bring matter to a higher spiritual state. ‘Alchemy is not to make gold,’ he says; ‘the real alchemist is not interested in material things but in transubstantiation, in transforming the spirit. It’s a spiritual thing more than a material thing. An alchemist puts the phenomena of the world in another context’ (A. Kiefer, quoted in J. Wullschlager, ‘Interview with Anselm Kiefer, ahead of his Royal Academy show,’ Financial Times, 19 September 2014). In this sense, Leviathan, with its freight of complex allusions and its grand, theatrical mise-en-scène, transforms material into narrative and art-making into a mode of comprehension, forging a new way of seeing past, present and future alike.

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