BERLIN.- The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has chosen German artist Anselm Kiefer to be the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize. The award ceremony will take place during the Frankfurt Book Fair on Sunday, October 19, 2008 in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt, Germany.
The Board of Trustees issued the following statement with regard to their choice: “The German Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association has chosen to award the 2008 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to Anselm Kiefer. In so doing, the association and its members have chosen to honor an artist of global importance who has consistently sought to confront us with a disturbing moral message of that which is ruinous and volatile. Kiefer appeared at an ideal moment in history to transcend the post-war dictate of non-committal and non-concrete representation. In many ways, Kiefer acted like an ingenious and conscious conqueror, seizing upon the means of an expressive, texture-rich form of painting and transferring these means – much like the spoils of war – to his own world of images. At the very center of his work stands an artistic present that is eroded and shattered, one that is presented with speechlessness and an extremely short-tongued rhetoric. The incredibly strong resonance that Kiefer’s work has received results from his ability to create a visual vocabulary for both timeless and acute themes and thereby simultaneously transform the viewer into a reader. The extent to which Kiefer deals with literature and poetry is demonstrated not only by his installations, which constantly allude to great works. Kiefer also made the book itself – the book as a form – into a decisive vehicle of expression. His monumental lead works appear as shields against a defeatism that dares to deny a future to books and reading.”
The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is endowed with a sum of €25,000. Previous recipients include Orhan Pamuk, Susan Sonntag, Jürgen Habermas, and Mario Vargas Llosa
Born on March 8, 1945 in Donaueschingen, Germany, Anselm Kiefer is considered one of Germany’s most important artists. Since the very beginning of his career, he has exerted a tremendous and growing influence on contemporary art across the world. From the first image series, “Besetzungen” (Occupations), in 1969 to his major “Monumenta” exhibition in 2007 at the Grand Palais in Paris, Kiefer has consistently shown his ongoing artistic examination of history, religion, philosophy, and mysticism as well as of literature and poetry. Using a wide variety of materials in many different artistic genres – particularly in painting and sculpture – Kiefer has created an oeuvre that gives us the sense, as Daniel Arasse puts it, “that we are dealing with a kind of labyrinth that gains progressively in complexity and variety, and whose unity and general context can be compared only to the uncertainty with which the interpreter, who seeks to confront the labyrinth, passes through it.”
Kiefer, the son of a drawing instructor, began his studies in 1965 in law and romance languages before studying art under Peter Dreher in Freiburg im Breisgau and with Horst Antes in Karlsruhe. From 1970 to 1972, Kiefer apprenticed for Joseph Beuys in Dusseldorf. Toward the end of the 1960s, Kiefer’s art focused on an examination of the question of whether German artists could exist after the Holocaust as well as on the Third Reich’s appropriation of the German cultural and artistic tradition. Kiefer dealt with the phenomenon of misguided hero worship by using self-portraits based on those of historical figures, such as Adolf Hitler and King Ludwig II. The concept books he developed at a later time (“You Are a Painter” (1969), “Heroic Symbols” (1969)) show Kiefer as an artist provocatively displaying Nazi rule both with and from within his own body, thus creating a bridge between painting and performance art.
In the years to come, Kiefer’s connection of art and political statement provoked discussions time and time again. In his images, he used symbolic and mythical elements from German history while simultaneously confronting expressive currents in terms of style. Kiefer painted wooden interiors in the 1970s, which he connected to the mythology and ideology of German history (“Parsifal I-III” (1973)). At the same time, he created works with an axe and fire to which he added lead, fabric, and other materials (“Malerei der verbrannten Erde” (Painting of the Burned Earth) (1974) and “Bilderstreit” (Image Controversy) (1976-1980)). Both types of works eventually came together into a joint exhibition with Baselitz in the German pavilion at the 1980 Venice Biennale. The works shown there dealt with themes of “burning, felling, sinking, and silting” and unleashed a controversy about Kiefer’s art and his intentions that launched him into international stardom.
Kiefer’s first exhibitions in New York in 1981 made him a much-sought-after figure in the art business, and TIME magazine called him “the best artist of his generation on both sides of the Atlantic.” Toward the end of the 1980s, Kiefer began to increasingly take as his theme Jewish esotericism and the mysticism of the Kabala. In this period, he created large lead sculptures such as “Zweistromland” (Mesopotamia) (1986-1989) and airplane-like lead objects incapable of flying, such as “Mohn und Gedächtnis” (Poppy and Memory) (1989), as metaphors for myths and historical disasters. His “Volkszählung” (Census) (1991) – a library made of heavy lead folios – was heralded by Klaus Dieter Lehmann as “a powerful symbol for the future of the book and against the fleetingness of the media, the acceleration of time, and the simultaneousness of events.”
Kiefer created his art in a former factory in the Odenwald district of Buchen well into the 1990s. There, he collaborated with 19 assistants and let his works “mature by themselves.” In 1992, after the demise of a proposed project entitled “Zweitstromland” (Mesopotamia) in Buchen, which would have featured artist studios, exhibition halls, and sculptures, Kiefer decided to leave Germany. He has been living and working ever since in a former silk factory in Barjac, in the south of France, on a 35-hectare piece of property provided to him on the invitation of Jacques Lang, France’s minister of culture at the time.
After a self-imposed three-year break from painting, in which he undertook numerous journeys and devoted time above all to photography and writing, Kiefer’s art began to show an unmistakable further development. His work began to feature more color and virtuosity, which allowed him to express his pre-occupation not only with cosmic themes but also with literature and poetry. Countless photographs taken on his many journeys formed the basis for a pyramid series (“Die sieben Paläste des Himmels” (The Seven Palaces in the Sky) (1973-2001), and “Himmel und Erde” (Heaven and Earth (1996)). The nature and open sky of Barjac also inspired Kiefer to produce astral works. In 2007, Kiefer received much attention for his large exhibition at London’s White Cube, for his exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and in particular for his “Monumenta” at the Grand Palais in Paris, which highlighted his artistic dealings with the works of Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann.
In addition to the 2008 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, Kiefer has received several awards, including the Hans-Thoma-Preis (1983), the Wolf Award for Art, Jerusalem (1990), the Goslar Kaiserring (1991), the International Award from the Jury of the 47th Venice Art Biennale (1997), as well as the Japanese Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale (1999) for his achievements as a contemporary artist who has developed a pronounced appreciation for the interplay between art and the past as well as for the ethics and morals of the present.
Anselm Kiefer lives in Paris.