Anselm Kiefer’s “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (Bohemia lies by the Sea)
Anselm Kiefer’s “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (Bohemia lies by the Sea) is
Deeply Felt and Vividly Portrayed
I will never forget the first time I saw an Anselm Kiefer painting in person on a field trip to New York in the spring of 2016. I remembered an article I’d recently read Deeply Felt and Vividly Portrayed Dialogues of Art. Michael Wilson states in How to Read Contemporary Art on page 6 “Criteria for success or failure of a contemporary artwork are essentially the same as those applied to one from any other era: Does it pose or prompt interesting questions? Do its material, formal and conceptual elements work effectively with each other? Does it interact productively with its content? Does it achieve what it set out to do?” “Böhmen liegt am Meer” did everything and more.
“Böhmen liegt am Meer” hangs in the mezzanine and occupies an entire wall at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kiefer’s physical materiality of the painting triggered a strong emotional connection to the materials first and secondly the subject matter. Mystery in the technique and process is one thing I value in works. I couldn’t make sense of the image or the process of paint application. There was much destruction and subtractive methods were clearly a huge part of his process. Big blotches of light peach atop a very dark crusty background stood out sharply. It wasn’t until I had stepped back a distance that I could see the image and begin to think about content.
Kiefer’s unforgettable visual drama overwhelmed me. He had depicted a well-worn path that carried the viewer over hills to the black horizon. The dark apocalyptic landscape was composed primarily of greens, earth tones, and blacks. The big peachy blotches were poppies and the road was light in tone. The flowers amidst the burnt field danced with hope and life. I felt mixed emotions. The photos truly don’t do Keiffer’s work any justice. I could have never guessed how I respond to these paintings.
Although my physical reaction to the painting is an experience I will never forget, I was just as surprised by the kind of thought and emotion the work triggered. In spite of the fact that many people assume Kiefer’s work is inspired primarily by events past, most notably, the Holocaust, and other historical trauma, this is a gross misunderstanding; his work is rich and complex. The work powerfully captures the human experience as he draws from German history, mythology, literature, philosophy, science, art history, music, topography, architecture, folk customs, taboo issues, Egyptian and Hebrew Religion and Mysticism even clichés or icons. I believe Kiefer also wants the richness of German culture redeemed. I think he makes his paintings for himself because he too feels victim, as victim of German guilt. “Böhmen liegt am Meer” provided a whole new dimension of hopeful interpretation. The painting had deep sudden impact on my life and renewed my interest in his work. I will continue researching many things, which inform his work that inspire me.