Skip to main content

Untitled (work of art)

Artwork Info

Created
1980 to 1986
Artist
Anselm Kiefer
Nationality
German
Birth/Death
1945-
Dimensions
Panel with boulders:
130 1/4 x 73 inches (330.7 x 185.4 centimeters)
Panel with ladder:
130 5/8 x 72 5/8 inches (331.7 x 184.9 centimeters)
Panel with funnel:
130 1/4 x 72 7/8 inches (330.7 x 185.0 centimeters)

Credit

Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, W. R. Valentiner, and various donors, by exchange

Object Number
94.3/a-c
Culture
European German
Classification
Paintings
Department
European

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • The texture of this painting was created with layers of paint, lead, straw, and charcoal. The artist painted over a photograph of rural Germany and added three-dimensional objects to the surface of the painting. These include a ladder, a serpent, and a funnel-shaped object.
  • Anselm Kiefer grew up in Germany after World War II. The war-torn landscapes and political struggles of his childhood greatly influenced his work and artistic process. 
  • Kiefer’s work is inspired by the concepts of transformation, destruction, and creation.  
  • When this painting is moved at the NCMA, sometimes small pieces flake or fall off of it. The artist has requested that the small pieces do not get reattached because he likes seeing the way his paintings transform over time.

Learn More

Anselm Kiefer’s Untitled (1986) is a large, three-dimensional painting with a strong sense of mystery and symbolism. A cluster of rocks is attached to the left panel, and a metal, funnel-shaped object is attached to the right panel. The middle panel features a snake or serpent under a ladder made of lead. Some art historians believe the ladder represents a link between the real world and the spiritual world, while others see the serpent as a symbol of evil. 

The artist says he is inspired by ideas of transformation, destruction, and creation. He created Untitled by layering paint, lead, and other materials on top of a photograph of a rural German landscape. 

“What I like to do is transform things. I don’t know, from the beginning, what it will say. It has to be in a conversation with me.” -Anselm Kiefer

Kiefer grew up in Germany in the aftermath of World War II. He spent his childhood surrounded by destroyed landscapes and major political changes. His life experience has influenced his work and his artistic process.  His process includes constantly destroying and recreating pieces of his paintings.

When this painting has been moved at the NCMA, pieces of paint, rock, and lead have fallen off of it. Kiefer says he appreciates seeing his paintings transform over time and has requested that small pieces are not reattached. NCMA conservators have a simple rule that if something “smaller than the size of a hand” falls off Kiefer’s painting, they won’t reattach it. They have collected and saved several “Kiefer bits,” or small pieces that have fallen off the painting. When the funnel (which is larger than the size of a hand) detached from the right panel, however, the NCMA conservation team repaired and reattached it.

Tags: abstract expressionism, texture, World War II, history

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers: 

 

Resources for Students:

Images

  • A three-panel abstract painting in shades of gray, brown, and gold. The panel on the left has several rocks attached to it. The middle panel has a small ladder attached to it, with a painted surface below. The panel on the right has a silver funnel-shaped object attached to it.

    Untitled

  • A three-panel abstract painting in shades of gray, brown, and gold. The panel on the left has several rocks attached to it. The middle panel has a small ladder attached to it, with a painted surface below. The panel on the right has a silver funnel-shaped object attached to it.

    A large funnel-shaped object from the Kiefer artwork that required repair.

  • A three-panel abstract painting in shades of gray, brown, and gold. The panel on the left has several rocks attached to it. The middle panel has a small ladder attached to it, with a painted surface below. The panel on the right has a silver funnel-shaped object attached to it.

    Numerous small pieces that have fallen off of the NCMA’s Kiefer artwork.