From accumulations of paint, stratifications of organic material and layers of symbolic association, Anselm Kiefer constructs Die Lorelei, a melancholic vision of a post-apocalyptic world. Drawing on the artist’s enduring motif of ruined architecture, a desolate tower teeters uncertainly, its foundations fracturing into the fissures of arid rust-red soil. Kiefer gives his iteration of the hubristic Biblical Tower of Babel, poised in its final moments, the veiled menace of the twentieth-century checkpoint, rendering it in brutal concrete. Evoking the visual memory of the bombed-out ruins of post-War Germany, the tower’s blackened windows blindly survey the tainted wasteland, asserting the dominance of a toppled regime. The theme of the ravaged tower, a dystopian metaphor for the passing of time, recurs repeatedly in Kiefer’s work, most strikingly in the monumental, crumbling monoliths which guard the scrubland of Kiefer’s studio in Barjac, France, and which soared forbiddingly in the critically-acclaimed installation, Jericho, at the Royal Academy of Art, London, in 2007.
In cursive script, Kiefer traces the name ‘Lorelei’ upon the work, inscribing the bleak landscape with haunting mythology. In German Romantic literature, Lorelei is the siren of the Rhine, a wretched, heart-broken spirit who lures sailors to their death with bewitching beauty and sinister song, giving her name to an eponymous rock on the banks of the river. The artist invokes this malevolent presence in Die Lorelei, letting the spirit’s hair tumble and spill from the top of the tower, shrouding it in a dark, funereal wreath. Layering mythology and history, imagination and reality, ancient and modern, Kiefer re-creates the strata of cultural memory in the surface of Die Lorelei: ‘I see all the layers. In my paintings, I tell stories in order to show what lies behind history. I make a hole and pass through’ (A. Kiefer, quoted in Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Art, London, 2014, p. 46).