Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more Property from a Private Important European Collection
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)

Am Anfang (In the Beginning)

Details
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
Am Anfang (In the Beginning)
sand, earth, oil, sunflower seeds and mixed media on canvas
111 3/8 x 149 ¾ x 2in. (283 x 380.5 x 5cm.)
Executed in 1998
Provenance
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Guido Orsi, Italy (acquired from the above in 1999).
Bear Witness, Sotheby's London, 10 March 2015, lot 161.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
G. Celant (ed.), Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2007, p. 493, no. 118 (illustrated in colour with the incorrect orientation, p. 297).
Exhibited
Ghent, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, SMAK, Anselm Kiefer. Recente werken 1996-1999, 2000, p. 150 (illustrated in colour with the incorrect orientation, p. 29).
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.

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Lot Essay

‘In my paintings, I tell stories in order to show what lies behind history. I make a hole and pass through’
–Anselm Kiefer


Made using a heavily-encrusted mixture of shellac, emulsion, acrylic, ash and sunflower seeds, Am Anfang (In the Beginning), is a large, almost completely abstract painting that Anselm Kiefer made in 1998. With the exception of a few clusters of clearly delineated geometric form, this large, cosmic picture comprises almost entirely of a rich, heavily-worked, and seemingly abstract painted surface. It is a surface that has been dug into, poured, splashed, pushed and pulled in a myriad of directions, as well as strewn with what is, for Kiefer, a perennial symbol of the cycle of death and rebirth and of macrocosm and microcosm: sunflower seeds. Through the heavily material troughs, ridges, craquelure and half-formed patterns of this richly textured, even, at times, shimmering surface, however, there appear glimpses of imagery or structures. These are all indistinct, partially obscured or appearing to be caught in the process of coming into existence. As the epic and Biblically-derived title of this picture suggests, its subject is the origin of the universe - the moment of divine creation, when God created the world and something emerged from nothing. Am Anfang is a title that Kiefer has bestowed upon several of his most epic and ambitious works, ranging from a vast image of the ocean strewn with a solitary leaden ladder (Jacob’s Ladder) in a painting of 2008 to an entire opera that he devised in 2009 for the Opéra Bastille in Paris.

As in these works, in this canvas of 1998, Kiefer has taken as his guide to the divine moment of Creation, not the famous Biblical account in Genesis, but the Gnostic account of Isaak Luria, founder of the modern Kabbalah. Luria, a 16th century Jewish mystic described how God created the world by withdrawing in on himself in order to make a space wherein the universe could come into existence. For Kiefer, as for other followers of the Kabbalah, this primordial moment of creation was, or is, not a finite one-off moment of Creation, but an on-going and cyclical event. It is a moment somewhat akin to the idea of a divine breath, breathing life in and out behind the mirage of imagery that our senses experience. It is also an act that can be seen to be approximated, echoed and perhaps reverberated in the artist’s act of creation.

The cyclical nature of this repetitive cycle of creation and destruction is signaled by the ash and the thousands of sunflower seeds that have been scattered throughout the painting. While on one level seeds and ash evidently relate to the concept of growth and decay, the seeds of the star-like sunflower are also often used in Kiefer’s work to symbolize the inherent union of macrocosm and microcosm and the hermetic belief in ‘as above so below’ as signaled by Robert Fludd’s poetic concept of the countless stars in the heavens having their equivalence in the numberless flowers blooming on earth. Similarly, the clusters of geometric polyhedra that appear in this painting probably refer to the crystallizing of matter into a matrix of form and perhaps also to the ten ‘vessels’ that, in Kabbalistic myth, God created, after the universe had first emanated from his ‘withdrawing’. According to Luria, these vessels were the containers of God’s divine light, but in an event that mirrors the breaking of the waters when a child is born, these ‘vessels’ proved not strong enough and six of them were broken. Out of these, sparks of divine light poured forth, like seeds or stars scattering across the newly created universe, creating a chaotic pattern of order and disorder.

Am Anfang is a picture that aims to encapsulate something of this cosmic moment of becoming, of the moment when matter and imagery first materialized. As in so many of Kiefer’s works, the artist is attempting to represent the unrepresentable. It is in this respect too that Am Anfang is also a work that, like much of Kiefer’s art, provides a cosmic parallel to the process and practice of painting, here specifically focusing on the way in which an image comes into being. ‘“Kabbala” means “knowledge that has been received” a secret knowledge’, Kiefer has said. ‘But I think of it as images that have been received … The cabbalistic tradition is not one but many, forming a sophisticated spiritual discipline. It is a paradox of logic and mystical belief. It’s part scholarship, part religion, part magic. For me, it is a spiritual journey anchored by images … [Scientists] want to find heaven too, but their stars are always moving, always dying, and some breaking off, making new stars. Scientists are a bit like artists. Their stars are like pieces of memory that find their way into a painting. You pull them out and stop them for a moment in the painting. It is stopped only for the instant you recognize it and then you change position and you see something else, another relationship in the image, but again, only for an instant. There are only glimpses’ (A. Kiefer, quoted in Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, 2007, p. 339).

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