REFLECTIONS ON PAINTING, ALCHEMY, NAZISM: VISITING WITH ANSELM KIEFER
ALBERT P. ALBANO
Kiefer had said after several hours of our discussion that he was not satisfied with his work at any given moment because he was not sure that it was saying what he wanted. He felt he could never fully understand it because the images and ideas it was filled with held so many complexly associative meanings for him. He liked my easy conversance with the idea of the spiritual use of materials and their physical and visual evolution, for he believed many people were unsympathetic to this idea and did not understand this aspect and meaning of his work. He thought it was myopic for people to focus attention on his works' physical instability and unnecessary to worry about his pictures' changing. Change was largely part of the process, and their intent, or meaning, would not be essentially altered.11 Kiefer, with evident satisfaction, had recounted a story told him by Beuys. Beuys had amusingly related how the Tate Gallery had missed the point of Beuys's piece when staff had voiced serious concerns about the changing color and conditions of the fat in his object they were considering for purchase.
This was clearly a suitable anecdote for Kiefer, whose own attitude and sensibilities on the matter resembled in many regards those of Beuys. Those responsible for the stewardship of Kiefer's work, who are alarmingly concerned about its physical alteration, need to consider his compelling motives and vision for what he creates. Too narrow an interpretation of the implications of physical alteration in Kiefer's artworks significantly limits their breadth of communication. Kiefer's stated artistic intentions, encompassing a charged and dynamic view of materiality, history, and spirituality, will not, he believes, be substantially diminished by this aging process.12 His art's altered appearance will, in a sense, influence the future context in which it will be understood. Concomitantly, future viewers will bring both modified opinions of these issues and entirely new criteria to the art's interpretation. If Kiefer's work is understood and accepted as art evolving physically and, then, visually with the advance of time, his audience will perceive one of its many significant components. All art can only be preserved for a parametrical perpetuity, not for an unrealizable eternity. Kiefer's art will endure these dynamic variables, as he anticipates and intends, in contradiction to those who might predict its premature physical demise. As Marcel Duchamp said, “Men are mortal, pictures too” (quoted in Cabanne  1987, 67).