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Anselm Kiefer interview: History is a clay

Video by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Surrounded by his paintings in SFMOMA’s galleries, German artist Anselm Kiefer describes the challenges and significance of exploring the past in his work. He highlights the subjective, emotional nature of both history and art. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

I'm called Anselm Kiefer. I'm now in the Museum of San Francisco and I'm sitting in the German floor. When I made these paintings I made in the eighties, yes, I'll just look around. Yes, it was in a small schoolhouse in the most retired part of Germany. It was a kind of mythological landscape. I was surrounded by meaningful things and there I constructed my world. First, each people, each government writes his history. The history doesn't exist. You cannot do it really objectively. So, for me, history is then a clay, an argile to build with, to do something. Feelings, the feelings are very important, you know? What you feel when you read a story about the war, about this, and your emotion always goes in your judgment. You judgement not only is here. Your judgement is here, too. When I did this action, "Occupations," from then on I was a lot involved in the recent history of Germany. I did this action with a hand up and then it was a problem in the art school because they thought I'm a neofascist, or this. And the reaction was quite negative. There was one professor, it was a painter, and he was in Auschwitz. And he was the only one who defended me. And then I got through. But it was difficult for my teacher to defend it. He had to defend it, you know? We should not, never, touch artists or a poet in moral categories. It's different. The artists responsibility is to do his work as precise as possible. Society is another thing. The work has to be good. So the "Meistersinger" is the opera. I was so intrigued by this opera, by this German opera of Wagner. And when you see something what is difficult for you, you know, then it gives you a theme, you know? I was interested to make them, to neutralize them. Because it was abused, all the Norse mythology was a wonderful mythology about Thor and Odin and the Valkyries. And it was put shit on it, you know? It was misused. And what I like to do is transform things. I don't know, from the beginning, what it will say. It has to be in a conversation with me.