Welcome Back, Kiefer
Posted by Dustin on November 17, 2006 - 5:43pm
Categories: On the Walls

Anselm Kiefer, Papst Alexander VI: Die goldene Bulle,  1996

A few weeks ago, I stepped out of my office into the lobby and was pleasantly surprised to see something I hadn't seen in a while. Anselm Kiefer's Papst Alexander VI: Die goldene Bulle (Pope Alexander VI: The Golden Bull) was installed in the lobby after spending the last year in our exhibition Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, which has been touring since the exhibition closed at the Modern in January. Three of our other Kiefer works are still on tour right now at SFMOMA's iteration of that exhibition, which is on view through January 21, 2007.

This painting has always resonated strongly with me. I am not sure if it is because I have spent so much time looking at it, or if it is because it stands out from all of Kiefer's other works. The subject of this painting fits well with the artist's discussion of man's search for heaven and the divine, but seems to be a rare departure from Kiefer's usual European imagery. The massive pyramid depicted in this painting is an amalgam of Mesoamerican structures the artist saw in his travels through Central America. It is believed that these pyramids had a ceremonial purpose as the site where sacrifices were performed to deities. Pope Alexander VI was the pope during the exploration of the New World and sent missionaries and explorers throughout Central America in a quest for gold. It was believed that wealth, and specifically gold, would assure salvation. These quests ultimately led to the demise of great civilizations like the Aztecs. Kiefer depicts a river of gold flowing down the steps of the pyramid as well as rising to the heavens, referring to both civilizations' beliefs regarding divinity. It also appears that nature is reclaiming this moment in human history. As these structures age and crumble, the trees in the distance grow tall and the skies rain down on the steps of the pyramid, slowly eroding this history of man's path to the divine.

To switch gears slightly, check out this short movie of photographs taken of our installation crew uncrating one of the panels and installing the piece. I get such a kick out of crates; they are like big, perfectly wrapped presents. Enjoy the video and for a laugh, imagine a certain sitcom's theme song playing along. (Sorry, that has been cracking me up all week.)