top of page

The Hierarchy of the Angels

Updated: Apr 28

Die Ordnung der Engel (The Hierarchy of the Angels), 2007.

Chalk, iron, cotton, and linen dresses on panel.

As an artist you have to find something that deeply interests you. It’s not enough to make art that is about art, to look at Matisse and Picasso and say, how can I paint like them? You must be obsessed by something that can’t come out in any other way, then the other things – the skill and technique – will follow. 

Anselm Kiefer

In the realm of contemporary art, few figures loom as large or as enigmatic as Anselm Kiefer. A visionary artist whose work transcends boundaries and challenges conventions, Kiefer has carved out a unique space in the artistic landscape, blending history, mythology, and existentialism into monumental works that leave a memorable mark on viewers.

Born in Germany on March 8th in 1945 in the end of World War II, Kiefer's art is deeply influenced by his country's tumultuous history and the collective trauma of the past. Throughout his career, he has grappled with themes of memory, identity, and the human condition, creating works that serve as powerful meditations on the complexities of existence.

Grane, 1980-1983. Woodcut with paint and collage on paper mounted on linen. MoMA

At the heart of Kiefer's practice lies a deep reverence for the alchemical process of creation. Like a modern-day alchemist, he transforms base materials—lead, straw, ash—into objects of profound beauty and meaning. His artworks are often layered with symbolism and metaphor, inviting viewers to unravel their mysteries and confront the existential questions they pose.

Arsenal, 1970-2023

Martin Gayford writes about the work of Anselm Kiefer on view at the Royal Academy, London (2014): 

In alchemy, lead was to be transmuted into gold, and Kiefer is intensely interested in alchemy – he admires the writings of the Jacobean English astrologer, cosmologist, cabbalist and alchemist Robert Fludd (1574-1637). His work, especially in the last two decades, has been fed by deep interests in many esoteric traditions, such as the Jewish Cabbala and ancient Egyptian religion… one can feel as if one is drowning in references and allusions when one reads about Kiefer’s work. But – this is a crucial point – it is not necessary to decode all those layers of meaning in order to appreciate his art. They are all compressed into a visual experience; you can just look and sense the complexities. 

Kiefer's art is also inherently iconoclastic, challenging established narratives and questioning the veracity of history. He confronts the myths and legends that have shaped our understanding of the past, deconstructing them to reveal the underlying truths obscured by time and ideology.

Velimir Chlebnikov (2004), a series of 30 paintings devoted to the Russian philosopher who posited that war is inevitable. MASS MoCA

Perhaps most provocatively, Kiefer's work forces us to confront the dark shadows of our collective consciousness. His monumental canvases, with their brooding landscapes and haunting imagery, serve as stark reminders of humanity's capacity for destruction and renewal. They compel us to confront the horrors of the past while holding out hope for a better future.

Für Paul Celan, 2006. Oil, emulsion, acrylic, branches, metal, wood, and chalk on canvas mounted on board.

280 x 570 x 50 cm.

In recent years, Kiefer has found inspiration in the tranquil landscapes of southern France, where he established a sprawling studio complex La Ribaute, in the village of Barjac. Here, amidst the golden fields and vineyards of Provence, he continued to push the boundaries of his art, experimenting with new techniques and materials while remaining true to his overarching themes.

Böse Blumen, 2016. Photo © White Cube

The Seven Heavenly Palaces, La Ribaute, Barjac.

Building almost from the ground up in a derelict silk factory, Kiefer devised an artistic project extending over acres: miles of corridors, huge studio spaces with ambitious landscape paintings and sculptures that correspond to monumental constructions in the surrounding woodland, and serpentine excavated labyrinths with great earthy columns that resemble stalagmites or termite mounds. Nowhere is it clear where the finished product definitively stands; perhaps it is all work in progress, a monumental concept-art organism.

Peter Bradshaw

A.K. in Samson Crypt, La Ribaute, Barjac.

Amphitheater, La Ribaute, Barjac.

In 2008 Kiefer left his studio complex and move to Paris.

He left behind the great work of Barjac – the art and buildings. A caretaker looks after it. Uninhabited, it quietly waits for nature to take over, because, as we know, over our cities grass will grow.

Bryan Appleyard


Anselm Kiefer is, above all, a provocateur—an artist who challenges us to confront the complexities of our existence and the dark recesses of our collective memory. His art is a testament to the power of the human spirit to transcend adversity and find meaning in even the darkest of times. In a world increasingly defined by uncertainty and upheaval, his work serves as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the enduring power of art to illuminate the human condition.

Your Golden Hair, Margarete. 1980, The Met

Perspective and Impressionism were tentative attempts to deal with the world of appearance because of a fear to look inside. Cubism is structure and order. Now both epidermis and order are no longer possible. The accidental aspects of Impressionist composition are to be understood as a reaction. And the reaction of Cézanne is to be seen as a response to Impressionism. One cannot simply disregard Impressionism. As a dialectic antithesis it was important. The Impressionists had the idea of dissolution; they wanted to represent light, not bodies and not shadows, but light for itself. Frequently I find this tedious, but there is an idea behind it: atomization is a modern idea.

Anselm Kiefer (1986)


Eschaton-Anselm Kiefer Foundation:

An Excerpt from Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow:

Anselm Kiefer's Finnegan's Wake exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey, London:

Anselm by Wim Wenders:

190 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page