Gagosian Quarterly

April 17, 2017

anselm kieferat copenhagen contemporary

Tom Lee explores Anselm Kiefer’s exhibition at Copenhagen Contemporary, tracing the literary and alchemical references at work in the installation.

Installation view, Anselm Kiefer: For Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit, Copenhagen Contemporary, April 1–August 6, 2017. Photo by Anders Sune Berg

Installation view, Anselm Kiefer: For Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit, Copenhagen Contemporary, April 1–August 6, 2017. Photo by Anders Sune Berg

Copenhagen’s Papirøen, or Paper Island, is one of the many docks that dot the banks of the city’s Inner Harbor. The papirhallen, or warehouses, there were formerly used to store the paper stock of the Danish press. Now, their sprawling interiors have been repurposed as exhibition and event spaces, one of which is that of Copenhagen Contemporary.

On April 1, Copenhagen Contemporary opened Anselm Kiefer’s For Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit. Forever in conversation with the legacy of the past, and sensitive to its impact on the present, Kiefer has created a “journey to the end of the night,” which he suggests might conclude in a more hopeful place.

The four life-size airplane sculptures, each based upon a retired model from a bygone conflict (the F-84F Thunderstreaks date from the Korean War, and the B-26 and B-17 from World War II), are positioned, as though parked, within the cavernous halls of Copenhagen Contemporary. On entering the museum one feels as though one has stepped into a private hangar, filled with the fossils of war. Yet Kiefer presents these planes as softer, more fragile, and almost impotent: their fuselages are riddled with sunflowers and poppies, their wings weighed down by books. The only malice these planes still hold is in their materiality: they are formed almost entirely from lead. Lead has always played a key role in Kiefer’s work, not only for its malleability but also for its point of prominence in alchemical tradition. The planes are shown in a point of transition, their carcasses slowly being overwhelmed by literature and nature in a process that is in a sense analagous to that of alchemy, the goal of which is the creation of something valuable out of base materials.

Anselm Kiefer at Copenhagen Contemporary

Installation view, Anselm Kiefer: For Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit, Copenhagen Contemporary, April 1–August 6, 2017. Photo by Anders Sune Berg

Four paintings, architectural in scale, place viewers in a desert mise-en-scène, drawing imagery from Kiefer’s own travels in the Gobi desert, and Ingeborg Bachmann’s The Book of Franza. Kiefer’s deserts are writ large: they overwhelm and isolate. Like the desert Bachmann’s Franza sees for the first time—“A pure expanse before your eyes into which you escape, chased every day into the desert and going into the desert again in order to drink in yet more desert with your eyes.”1 —Kiefer’s deserts are pure expanses at such a scale that one cannot consider them as a single object, but only as part of a place. At a distance one is awed by their scale—the largest of the canvases is over six meters (almost twenty feet) in height and eleven meters (thirty-six feet) in length. Seen up close, their heavily worked surfaces unfold in thick layers of acrylic, oil, and tiny studs of shellacked sunflower seeds.

This exhibition is part of the journey to the end of the night, not the end in and of itself. The planes have not been completely overwhelmed, wind still seems to wear at the deserts, and the scales are still out of balance. But, to borrow the words of Kiefer himself, “You have to create hope, otherwise you cannot live.” With this show, he confirms that journey is well under way.

1Ingeborg Bachmann, trans. Peter Filkins, The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999), p. 111.

Artwork © Anselm Kiefer. Anselm Kiefer: For Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit at Copenhagen Contemporary, Copenhagen, Denmark, April 1–August 6, 2017.

Anna Weyant’s Two Eileens (2022) on the cover of Gagosian Quarterly, Winter 2022

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Winter 2022

The Winter 2022 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Anna Weyant’s Two Eileens (2022) on its cover.

Michael Govan and Anselm Kiefer

In Conversation
Anselm Kiefer and Michael Govan

On the occasion of his exhibition Anselm Kiefer: Exodus at Gagosian at Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles, the artist spoke with Michael Govan about his works that elaborate on themes of loss, history, and redemption.

Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Questionnaire: Anselm Kiefer

Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Questionnaire: Anselm Kiefer

In this ongoing series, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist has devised a set of thirty-seven questions that invite artists, authors, musicians, and other visionaries to address key elements of their lives and creative practices. Respondents make a selection from the larger questionnaire and reply in as many or as few words as they desire. For the fourth installment, we are honored to present the artist Anselm Kiefer.

Darkly lit road, trees, and building exterior at La Ribaute, Barjac, France.

Anselm Kiefer: Architect of Landscape and Cosmology

Jérôme Sans visits La Ribaute in Barjac, France, the vast studio-estate transformed by Anselm Kiefer over the course of decades. The labyrinthine site, now open to the public, stands as a total work of art, reflecting through its grounds, pavilions, and passageways major themes in Kiefer’s oeuvre: regeneration, mythology, memory, and more. 

Two dress sculptures in the landscape at Barjac

La Ribaute: Transitive, It Transforms

Camille Morineau writes of the triumph of the feminine at Anselm Kiefer’s former studio-estate in Barjac, France, describing the site and its installations as a demonstration of women’s power, a meditation on inversion and permeability, and a reversal of the long invisibility of women in history and myth.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1928. Photo: Lou Andreas-Salomé

Rainer Maria Rilke: Duino Elegies

Bobbie Sheng explores the symbiotic relationship between the poet and visual artists of his time and tracks the enduring influence of his poetry on artists working today.


Mythologies: A Conversation with Erlend Høyersten

Gagosian’s Georges Armaos speaks with the director of ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Denmark, about the exhibition Mythologies: The Beginning and End of Civilizations, the art of Anselm Kiefer, and the role of museums during times of crisis.

Anselm Kiefer, Volkszählung (Census), 1991, steel, lead, glass, peas, and photographs, 163 ⅜ × 224 ½ × 315 inches (4.1 × 5.7 × 8 m)/

Cast of Characters

James Lawrence explores how contemporary artists have grappled with the subject of the library.

Anselm Kiefer, Maginot, 1977–93.

Veil and Vault

An exhibition at the Broad in Los Angeles prompts James Lawrence to examine how artists give shape and meaning to the passage of time, and how the passage of time shapes our evolving accounts of art.



Richard Calvocoressi speaks with Anselm Kiefer about the range of mythological and historical symbols in the artist’s sculpture Uraeus.

Anselm Kiefer, Uraeus (2017-18), installation view, Rockefeller Center, New York.

Anselm Kiefer: Uraeus

Taking viewers behind the scenes during the installation of Anselm Kiefer’s Uraeus at Channel Gardens, Rockefeller Center®, New York, this video features interviews with Kiefer, Robin Vousden, Nicholas Baume, and Richard Calvocoressi. The speakers detail the conception, installation, and symbolism of this monumental public sculpture.

Transition from Cool to Warm

Transition from Cool to Warm

Art historian James Lawrence explores Anselm Kiefer’s latest body of work.