Anselm Kiefer’s Untitled, a painting in the Museum’s collection, hangs not only as a cornerstone in our contemporary gallery, but for me it is a constant reminder of why I chose to pursue a career in museums. As a college freshman studying Psychology, I took an Art Appreciation class as an elective purely out of my own curiosity about art. Little did I know that that one class would change the direction of my life.
After visiting an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, I was assigned a writing project on one of the objects featured: Anselm Kiefer’s painting Ways of Worldly Wisdom: Arminius Battle. Kiefer’s body of art is largely informed by his experience growing up in post-war Germany. Many of his artworks explore ideas of war, death, and national identity represented not only by his use of symbols and subject matter, but also in the materials and techniques that he uses.
Our Kiefer painting is characteristic of his larger body of work that incorporates complex imagery, large scale, and the use of unorthodox materials such as straw and stones (the stones weigh over 600 lbs). The symbols that Kiefer incorporated into Untitled could be interpreted in many different ways. For example, the ladder at center could reference Jacob’s ladder from the Old Testament or represent a means of intercession between this world and the next. The ambiguity of this piece is further reflected in the title, Untitled-Kiefer leaves it to the viewer to bring their own personal experiences to the viewing process.
Art can depict points in history, provide clues into past cultures, portray emotions, and create meaningful experiences and inspirations for viewers. It was this complexity in art and specifically in the art of Anselm Kiefer that inspired me to continue to study art history.
It is difficult at times to identify sources of inspiration. My hope is that when you visit the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art, you will feel inspired by a work of art no matter what your passion or interest. Perhaps math students will be intrigued by Frank Stella’s Raqqa II, music enthusiasts stirred by New Orleans: Ragging Home by Romare Bearden, dancers inspired by the Egungun Costume, or see history to life in First News of the Battle of Lexington.
Share your experiences of being inspired at the NCMA in the comments section below.