Anselm Kiefer’s Untitled (1986) presents a vast, cosmic mystery, the full interpretation of which is elusive. The drama is played out against a scarred landscape, reminiscent perhaps of the postwar Germany of Anselm Kiefer’s youth. Dominating the middle panel is a great serpent coiled at the foot of a ladder made of lead. In Genesis the patriarch Jacob dreams of angels climbing up and down a ladder from heaven. Could the artist mean the rickety ladder in this painting to be a symbolic link between the worldly and the spiritual realms? And is the serpent, that most earthbound of creatures, a reference to evil? Around the central image swirls a vortex of charred paint and splattered lead. Lead rains down, is “funneled” to the left, and rematerializes as a cluster of stones. Like a sorcerer or prophet, Kiefer conjures a vision of endless creation and destruction.
Tags: abstract expressionism, texture, World War II, history