With the help of the independent art charity, the National Art Collections Fund (The Art Fund), Edwin C. Cohen and a further donor, Tate has acquired a major painting by the German artist Anselm Kiefer (born 1945). Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom 2000, belongs to a group of paintings and books that Kiefer has made in the past few years which have the Chinese Revolution and the first Communist leader Mao Zedong as their subject. The work will go on display at Tate Modern from 30 March 2002 in a dedicated Kiefer display.
The title, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, is based on a famous Maoist slogan of 1957 which ushered in a period of greater cultural openness. The painting features an imposing image of one of the generic concrete statues of Mao that were placed all over China. The figure is partially obscured by the addition of dried roses and dense thickets of brambles attached to the surface of the work. There are parallels between Kiefer’s Mao paintings, which reflect upon the authoritarian, one party system presided over by a charismatic leader, and his earlier German subjects, which were haunted by the Hitler dictatorship and its aftermath. This German legacy was acutely questioned by Kiefer’s generation, which came to adulthood in the 1960s. With responses to Chinese post-revolutionary history current closely circumscribed in China, Kiefer’s reference to the Mao regime can be understood as an ironic observation on a nation where the process of critical examination of the past is only just beginning.
Anselm Kiefer makes paintings many large in scale, sculptures, mixed media assemblages, photographs, and works on paper, some of which are bound into large books. He uses materials as diverse as shellac, lead, sand and an assortment of found or constructed objects such as glass, fabrics, snake skins, hair, straw, plants, flowers, seeds and copper wiring which are affixed to the surfaces of his works. These surfaces are distressed by the artist, by burning or by being left outside the studio on the ground for weeks at a time.
Born in 1945 in Donaueschingen, Germany, Kiefer studied art in Freiburg and Karlsruhe in the late 1960s. The dominant figure in German art during this period was Joseph Beuys, with whom Kiefer studied for two years, from 1971-2. For the first two decades of his career Kiefer’s subject matter was dominated by Germany’s National Socialist past and the various myths that sustained it. In the late 1980s his interests broadened to include repositories of human knowledge, such as the great library at Alexandria, and the relationship between science, cosmology and the arts. The thread linking all Kiefer’s work is his fascination with history, mythology, and the discovery of knowledge.
Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom (2000), joins six earlier works by Kiefer in the Tate Collection: Parsifal i, ii, iii (1973); Ways of Wordly Wisdom (1978); The Rhine (1981); and Lilith (1987-9).