Kiefer and von Rydingsvard

Anselm Kiefer exhibition at Royal Academy, 19 October 2014


Kiefer produces massive monumental paintings and sculptures emanating from his own history, growing up in Germany at the end of the war as in the picture of the Reichstag above. There were also watercolour sketchbooks, often life drawings of women. His paintings are mainly oils, applied very thickly on the surface. He uses a narrow colour range, greys, darks which produce powerful striking works.

He draws on a number of common themes – initially including Nazi symbols in his paintings. This was misconstrued initially  – but what he was attempting to do was to bring to the fore what was being buried in the post war period  – by some. Of course he was not alone in this – there was a huge radicalisation of German politics in the  60s and 70s – the Baader-Meinhof group for example – who were reacting against the politics of the previous generation. He embraces other Germanic mythological themes however – such the forest. He’s created a series of paintings behind glass of forests which are very evocative.


He has built a huge studio area in France – since working there he’s used the sunflower motif a lot – a symbol of life in death and death in life. There are several of these paintings and in some of them a (his?) corpse-like form is present. Kiefer has begun to paint on lead – as the most enduring material.


I found the Guardian review helpful.

‘History is not just a theme for Anselm Kiefer, it is entangled in the way he paints. Memory makes his art.’

Ursula von Rydingsvard

We visited a major exhibition of Ursula von Rydingsvard’s work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this summer, 2014. I hadn’t heard of her before, though she is clearly a major artist.

Like Kiefer she grew up in Germany immediately after the war – but as a Pole, a child in a camp for displaced persons. When I visited the Kiefer exhibition it reminded me of the powerful effect von Rydingsvard’s work had had on me.

Her work is also monumental and obsessive in the extreme – mostly focused around working with cedar. The work pictured above is of a Perspex materials however and she also uses pig skin. She also works with found objects, often drawn from Poland and childhood. Her planning and the detail of her construction is extraordinary. I loved her 3D pieces and also her 2D works and works on paper. I really enjoyed two fairly long videos of her working in New York where she has lived most of her life – an amazing, obsessive, inspirational force.

Some of the cedar works were large hollowed out shapes which you could look into or even walk into, composed of carefully shaped and placed pieces of cedar.



Works that were hung on walls were also mostly based either on wood or also on found objects.





I very much liked the way she related her childhood experiences to the development of her art.

ursula1 ursula2

What I loved as well was the way her sculptures fitted with the Yorkshire landscape. The setting of the sculpture park in Yorkshire was perfect for her work.




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