Modern and Contemporary Art
Abendland [The Occident]
In the late 1980s, Kiefer began employing diverse materials and techniques to create large-scale works whose complexity is both material and thematic; these works incorporate motifs from German history, the Bible, Kabbalah, and Greek and Oriental mythology. The associative elements in his art – which connect past and present, history and myth – allude to diverse personal and cultural contexts, so that the work acquires an enigmatic syntax.
In Abendland, Kiefer employed images and motifs with multiple meanings, which at times represent two contradictory ideas or concepts: the charred earth symbolizes death and the cessation of being, yet may also be perceived as a mythical origin or primordial chaos; lead―one of the artist’s preferred material―is simultaneously a poisonous element and a means of protection against radiation. Kiefer was one of the first German artists who dared to confront Nazism and the Holocaust in their art, and the railway tracks in this work allude to the Holocaust―yet also function as a metaphor for a spiritual journey.
The circular motif and the rings around it allude to the dark planet Saturn, yet its location in the composition, and its golden sheen, can also be associated with the sun. The motif of the circle is formed in this painting by imprinting the shape of a municipal sewage manhole cover into the soft lead.