In Late Summer, Anselm Kiefer Captures the Harvest

Nazanin Lankarani, The New York Times, 13 August 2020, Visit external site
Anselm Kiefer’s “Eros — Thanatos,” 2019. Emulsion, oil paint, acrylic, shellac, gold leaf, wood and metal on canvas.Credit...Anselm Kiefer, via Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London. Photo by Georges Poncet.

While the Salzburg Festival has been forced to limit its offerings in a year marred by the global pandemic, art lovers in town are in for a treat.

In a season unlike any other, a smaller crowd is being accommodated at the events and performances, and the gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac hopes many of them will come to his show of new works by the celebrated German artist Anselm Kiefer.

The event, which runs through Oct. 3, features 18 monumental paintings and an installation, a sculptural piece encased in glass. All were produced in Barjac, a town in southern France where Mr. Kiefer lives part time.

Mr. Ropac, an opera fan and Austrian native, said the Salzburg gallery, which opened in 1983, was active all year round but even more so during the summer. “The town becomes a cultural hub, so bustling you can feel it in the air.”

This year, the pandemic forced the gallery to close on March 14; it reopened June 2. The public will be allowed inside the gallery’s building, the Villa Kast, for the show, which can also be viewed online.

In this series, Mr. Kiefer depicts the rural landscape in Barjac, through an immersive experience of its blades of grass and flowers, a close-up of nature. “The grass, the entire vegetation was so dried out that the light yellow stalks and the withered thistles made for a whole variety of ocher and yellow shades which delighted me; which, in their beauty on the verge of decay, reminded me of the grim reaper, Eros and Thanatos,” Mr. Kiefer wrote in a statement issued by the gallery.

The new works, in the artist’s signature style of densely painted surfaces bursting with color, texture and the occasional object, are dedicated to the medieval troubadour Walther von der Vogelweide, a familiar reference in Mr. Kiefer’s oeuvre since the 1970s. His poems are still taught to German-speaking schoolchildren.

“Kiefer is greatly influenced by literature,” Mr. Ropac said. “His work is often reduced to references to history, but the life that Kiefer depicts is so much richer than that.”


Born in Germany in March 1945, two months before Germany’s surrender to Allied forces, Mr. Kiefer has a powerful voice that often echoes the burden of his generation as it confronts modern German history.

Though these works are not as melancholy as his other rural landscapes — like his sunflower series from the 1990s — a sense of decline emanates from his flowering meadows, particularly where a (real) trenchant sickle juts out of the canvas.

“Kiefer has returned to the landscape before harvest,” Mr. Ropac said. “The sickle evokes the harvest, but also death, labor or abundance, all of which could be viewed as political references.”

“This is a lyrical series in a German ‘romantic’ genre,” he said. “It is a very beautiful series, but in a deeper, more sophisticated sense of beauty.”

The exhibition is typical of Mr. Ropac’s summer activities. Based in Paris, he spends every August in Salzburg, organizing events at the gallery and working with the festival.


He has served on the board of the Friends of the Salzburg Festival, the event’s main sponsor, and has lent or donated art for shows produced in tandem with festival organizers.

“Last year, we installed a Joseph Beuys piece at the Festspielhaus, the festival’s main venue,” he said. “Some years ago, we worked with Robert Longo when he was invited to design stage sets for Mozart’s ‘Lucio Silla.’”

This year, Mr. Ropac has pledged to donate 5,000 euros (about $5,880) each to 20 Salzburg-based artists who have experienced financial hardship because of the pandemic.

“We are launching a broad program of solidarity to benefit young artists at our Pantin gallery in the fall,” Mr. Ropac said, referring to his space in a suburb of Paris. “On a smaller scale here, we are offering financial support to Salzburg artists.”

Mr. Kiefer’s “Memento mori,” 2020. Anselm Kiefer, via Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London. Photo by Georges Poncet.

This installation of glass, metal, fabric, acrylic, gold leaf, pebble, silicone, branches and dried plants is part of Mr. Kiefer’s exhibition in Salzburg. Anselm Kiefer, via Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London. Photo by Georges Poncet.