Since 1969 Anselm Kiefer has consistently returned to the book as subject matter. As a primary source of knowledge and a repository of world religions, books are a powerful and paradoxical symbol for the artist. Eventually Kiefer’s books became freestanding sculptures, massive symbols of the artist’s investigation of world knowledge through images. Book with Wings consists of a massive lead book supported on a steel lectern. The pages of the open book sprout two majestic wings. The Museum’s book is one of two made by Kiefer, “one triumphant and the other drooping and in repose.” The Modern’s winged book is the triumphant version, its wings lifting high off the pages, as if about to take flight. Nonetheless, this sculpture, like so much of the artist’s work, is ironic—the wings are made of lead, and therefore cannot fly.
Another work owned by the Modern, die Aschenblume, 1983-97, exhibits Kiefer's attempt to come to terms with his national identity through Nazi imagery and symbolism. The work depicts the grand Mosaic Room in the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, designed by Albert Speer, receding into deep space, yet the artist has blurred its image by covering the surface of paint and emulsion with ash. The colossal ceremonial space is empty, except for the intrusion of a tall dried sunflower plant. In die Aschenblume, Kiefer uses unconventional materials to suggest processes of transformation. In this case, he suggests a space in a moment of transition, in which new images can grow from the brittle goals of the Third Reich.