The work of Anselm Kiefer, who was born two weeks before the end of World War II, addresses the major themes of history, myth, and memory and confronts their most feared and painful aspects. In his work the artist often deals with the history of the German nation, referring to its myths and legends. Ascribing a transcendent value to art, but without formulating judgments about the events to which the work refers, Kiefer often alludes to a search for poetic truth. Through the materials and techniques he employs, his work also contains references to alchemical processes as a possible means for comprehending reality. Each work bears the traces of its own history, the materials used carrying their own decay. At the same time, the introduction of natural elements into Kiefer’s work, such as seeds, flowers, or dried grass, also points to promises of regeneration.
In Cette obscure clarté qui tombe des étoiles (That Obscure Clarity That Falls from the Stars), 1996, the artist investigates the inexorable path of matter, from decay to new birth. Quoting a verse written in the seventeenth century by French playwright Pierre Corneille, Kiefer celebrates the poetic force of the oxymoron “obscure clarity,” which unites in a single vision the opposing concepts of darkness and light, symbols of death and life. The juxtaposition alludes to the secrets of alchemical science, on the basis of which what is dead putrefies, but it is precisely this condition, called “nigredo”, or black decomposition, that gives way to the so-called “albedo”, the shining glimmer of new life. A vision of a majestic cosmic wave, the work describes the movement of creative energy through the use of thousands of sunflower seeds, microcosms of life inserted into the macrocosm of the universe.