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MASS MoCA announces new programming partnership devoted to the art of Anselm Kiefer
Anselm Kiefer, Velimir Chlebnikov, 2004.

NORTH ADAMS, MASS.- MASS MoCA recently announced a major new collaboration with the Hall Art Foundation, the keystone of which is a large and long-term exhibition of sculpture and paintings by Anselm Kiefer. The works are being shown in a 10,000 square-foot building at MASS MoCA specially re-purposed by the Hall Art Foundation.

The exhibition includes Étroits sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow are the Vessels) (2002), an 82-footlong, undulating wave-like sculpture made of cast concrete, exposed rebar, and lead; The Women of the Revolution (Les Femmes de la Revolution) (1992), comprised of more than twenty lead beds with photographs and wall text; Velimir Chlebnikov (2004), a steel pavilion containing 30 paintings dealing with nautical warfare and inspired by the quixotic theories of the Russian mathematical experimentalist Velimir Chlebnikov; and a new, large-format commission created by the artist specifically for the installation.

In announcing the collaboration with the Hall Art Foundation, MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson notes that this is the second such long-term installation focused on the work of a single artist realized through long-term institutional collaborations on the MASS MoCA campus. “In 2008 MASS MoCA joined forces with the Yale University Art Gallery, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the studio of Sol LeWitt to organize a 25-year exhibition devoted to LeWitt’s monumental wall drawings, a landmark quasi-permanent installation punctuated by a series of related temporary exhibitions at WCMA, including this year’s award-winning The Well-Tempered Grid, selected as “Outstanding Exhibition of the Year” by the Association of Art Museum Curators. It’s a good model, leveraging MASS MoCA’s space, audience, and technical capacities. We enjoy collaborating with artists, collectors, foundations, and cultural institutions to bring important bodies of art to the public...especially art whose spatial demands or technical requirements create affinities with our late 19th-century mill buildings, and whose content can be illuminated and animated by the extraordinary art historical scholarly resources of our region. I like the idea of hosting an array of distinct curatorial points of view, all within our singular factory campus. We are delighted to welcome the Hall Art Foundation and the work of Anselm Kiefer to MASS MoCA, North Adams, and the Berkshires.”

A selection of Kiefer’s early work spanning from 1969 to 1982 and, drawn from the Halls’ personal collection, opened simultaneously at the Williams College Museum of Art. Including handmade artist’s books, watercolors, and works from the early 1970s that mark the artists’ first forays into oil painting, the exhibition introduces many of the themes and subjects that would become Kiefer’s signature modes of working. Major highlights of the exhibition include examples from the epic 1977 series Wege der Weltweisheit, comprised of individual woodcuts depicting portraits of German leaders, a large-scale book, and a monumental collage of woodcuts combined with painted elements.

MASS MoCA has partnered with the Hall Art Foundation to co-present two previous exhibitions. One also focused on works by Kiefer, while the other surveyed the paintings of Jörg Immendorff. Andy and Christine Hall and the Hall Art Foundation go deep in their collecting activity,” adds Thompson. “And long. We at MASS MoCA admire the way in which Andy and Christine totally immerse themselves in art that captures their imagination, bringing passion but also great knowledge, research, and a lively sense of adventure. They are not afraid to follow their interests across the full scope of the visual arts radar, including the more remote and interesting edges. It is a pleasure to join the Hall Art Foundation in exploring innovative ways to bring its collection and that of the Halls into the public realm.”

Anselm Kiefer, who first visited MASS MoCA in 1990 when it was still in the early planning stages, ranks among the best-known and most important of post-World War II German artists living and working today. Born in 1945 in southern Germany during the final days of the collapse of the Third Reich, Kiefer experienced divided postwar Germany firsthand. Across his body of work, Kiefer argues with history, addressing controversial and even taboo issues from recent history with bold directness and lyricism. Kiefer often turns to literature and history as prime source material for his work, as he did, for example, in the suite of paintings that comprise Velimir Chlebnikov (2004).

Kiefer’s works are often realized in large formats, which in turn demand special exhibition spaces (as is the case in the current installation). The artist often builds his imagery on top of photographs, layering his massive canvases with dirt, lead, straw, and other materials that generate a “ground” that reads literally of the earth itself. Within these thick, impastoed surfaces Kiefer embeds textual or symbolic references to historic figures or places: these become encoded signals through which Kiefer invokes and processes history.

A law student, Kiefer switched his studies to art in 1965 and held his first solo exhibit in 1969. During the early 1970s he studied with conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, whose interest in using an array of cultural myths, metaphors, and personal symbolic vocabulary as a means to engage and understand history inspired Kiefer. (At MASS MoCA, the Kiefer installation will join one of Beuys’ masterpieces, Lightning with Stag in its Glare (1958-85), on long-term loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) Kiefer has described his own art-making process as stimulated by Beuys’ philosophies: “Painting, for me, is not just about creating an illusion. I don’t paint to present an image of something. I paint only when I have received an apparition, a shock, when I want to transform something. Something that possesses me, and from which I have to deliver myself. Something I need to transform, to metabolize, and which gives me a reason to paint.”

Like Beuys, whose works were often constructed of fragile, organic materials (including blood, fat, and honey), Kiefer’s works often incorporate unusual, fugitive materials such as ash, clay, and dried plant materials. With their rough-hewn textures and expansive narrative formats that often evoke charred landscape and historical, sometimes apocalyptic settings, Kiefer’s work did not conform to the pared-down Minimalist or Conceptualist movements that were becoming mainstream at the time he was a student. Instead he created massive, dark paintings, books constructed of large sheets of lead, and figurative works that explored German folklore and were inspired by Caspar David Friedrich, among others. Poetry (especially the work of Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann) has played a key role in shaping Kiefer’s themes of German history and the horror of the Holocaust, as have the theological concepts of Kabbalah. In addition to paintings, Kiefer also produces drawings, watercolors, object-filled glass vitrines, woodcuts, and theatrical set designs for the stage.

After establishing large studio practices in Germany and then Barjac (in the south of France), Kiefer now lives and works primarily in Paris. His 2007 commission by the Louvre for the monumental stairwell connecting its Egyptian and Mesopotamian antiquity galleries was the first permanent installation there by a living artist since the 1953 commission of three ceiling panels by Georges Braque. Recent exhibitions include a large retrospective which traveled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2007, Kiefer was commissioned to create a site-specific installation of sculptures and paintings for the inaugural “Monumenta” at the Grand Palais, Paris.

"We may well rotate or augment this initial installation from time to time,” said Andrew Hall. “We’ve enjoyed working closely with Anselm and his studio on the content and design of this particular iteration, and look forward to other possibilities.”

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