A landmark exhibition shines the spotlight on contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer in Florida

Post-war trauma and the complexities of German nationalism have been constants in Anselm Kiefer’s art. Born in Germany at the very end of World War II, the painter and sculptor has made it his life’s work to examine the Third Reich’s rise to power, and the tragedies that ensued, most notably the war and the Holocaust. One of the most esteemed artists from the post-World War II era, Kiefer creates large, confrontational works that never shy away from controversy.

To coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach, the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, is hosting a sweeping exhibition of the 71-year-old artist’s work, featuring 50 pieces drawn from the Hall and Hall Art Foundation collections. Entitled Regeneration Series: Anselm Kiefer from the Hall Collection, the show launches a new sequence of NSU exhibitions that focus on contemporary artists whose work addresses issues of identity, history and mythology.

Kiefer studied with German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, and, like Beuys, he attempts to confront the past by re-examining ancient myths like Isis and Osiris, as well as themes of destruction and regeneration, against a background of German philosophy and culture. His artwork consists of large and complex layered paintings of oil and mixed media, gigantic installations, artist books and watercolours rife with symbolic references. In many respects, Kiefer is credited with having forced German society to come to terms with its Nazi past through his bold, groundbreaking canvases, which he created as a mirror to Germany’s bloody history.

Exhibition highlights include 2009’s massive painting The Fertile Crescent, made with acrylic, oil, shellac and sand on canvas, and Jakobs Traum, a glass vitrine tableau of organic and inorganic material. Another work, 2010’s Winterwald, is a haunting depiction of a winter forest that perhaps hints at the German forests that served as refuge for civilians during World War II’s bombing campaigns. “Germans want to forget [the past] and start a new thing all the time,” Kiefer said, referencing his work, “but only by going into the past can you go into the future.”

The NSU exhibition coincides with the permanent showing of Kiefer’s grandiose installations at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse in Miami’s Wynwood district. In parallel with both shows, the Hall Art Foundation is holding a long-term installation of sculpture and paintings by Kiefer on the campus of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, on view through 2025.

Kiefer has lived and worked in France since 1993. He’s had numerous solo exhibitions at such prestigious institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the MoMA (both in New York), the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 2011, Christie’s auction house set a world record for the artist by selling Kiefer’s 1983 artwork, To the Unknown Painter, for $3.6 million.

Regeneration Series: Anselm Kiefer from the Hall Collection runs from November 29 to August 27, 2017, at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Performing Arts Issue #39, pages 50 – 53.