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Anselm Kiefer was born on March 8, 1945, in Donaueschingen, Germany. After taking courses in law and art in Freiburg, he continued his studies in Karlsruhe in 1969 before transferring in 1970 to the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he met Joseph Beuys. He first addressed the problem of history, particularly Germany’s contentious history, in 1969. That same year Kiefer had his first solo exhibition, at Galerie am Kaiserplatz in Karlsruhe. Early works highlight human suffering and loneliness. In 1973 he turned his attention to architecture, painting a series of large-scale canvases set in the wood-grained attic of his home.
The profane realities of history overtook myth in Kiefer’s work as of 1974. His canvases, with backdrops of charred and smoldering ploughed earth, became increasingly hermetic in their iconography, decipherable only with the help of the words and phrases he inscribed on them. In the early 1980s Kiefer’s interest in content was accompanied by an equal focus on both the materiality of the canvas and the visual complexity of its surface. He introduced a host of new materials into his aesthetic vocabulary, including wood, sand, lead, and straw. These natural elements lend his work a marked fragility, often in contradiction to their stark subject matter.
Through the late 1980s and 1990s, mystical and mythological themes continued to proliferate in Kiefer’s art. Between 1995 and 2001 he undertook a cycle of monumental paintings of the cosmos. Architecture returned to the fore in 1997 with a series of archaic desert clay structures. Since the late 1990s he has devoted his energy increasingly to sculpture in mixed media; lead, however, remains a preferred material. Plants, too, are prominent in his recent work. The Japan Art Association presented Kiefer with the Praemium Imperiale in 1999. Comprehensive solo exhibitions of his work have been organized by the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1984), Art Institute of Chicago (1987), Sezon Museum of Art in Tokyo (1993), Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1998), Fondation Beyeler in Basel (2001), Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2005), and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2007). He lives and works in Barjac, France.