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Anselm Kiefer interview: “My paintings change"

Video by SFMOMA. German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer discusses the meanings behind some of his favorite materials, including straw, cow manure, and lead. He describes how he strives for fluidity and malleability in his work, though conservation can be a challenge. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

You know, I have a lot of problems to get loans for shows from earlier works. They think it's fragile, you know? And a little bit straw falls down or a little bit color. You know, when I did my first show, it was a traveling show in America and I had a conservator with me. He was wonderful. At the end, he gave me a box, a cigar box, big like this and there was all the remnants in what fall down in the travels, you know? He was really great, you know? [laughs] You know, because my paintings, sometimes they change, you know? We have different interests. But, I mean, what you do is important, because otherwise we wouldn't have Rembrandt and Titian and all this. But my aim is completely different. I believe in the fluidity. And for me, the interesting thing is that it changes. It has always to change. I discovered for me the straw is a good material. I was growing up in a farmer milieu surrounded by farmers and cows and I had to take care of the cows so they don't go away and still today, I can speak with them, with cows, you know? When I meet a herd of cows, I do my, I don't it now here, but [laughter] Then they come, all the cows. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I have a good relationship with these cows. I was always interested not to use color as illusion but as a material. That that it would mean something to me. And for this reason, I worked already with lead. And I discovered straw is a wonderful material, you know, that's like manure. No, manure is important. It's a transformation, you know? It ferments and it becomes something else. If wouldn't be metamorphosis, not so much, then it would be just cow shit. There was a straw painting. But then then I took the straw away with a machete. You know machete? I like this, you know? To treat the painting a little bit. I learned something about the meaning of the material because I think that in the material is already the spirit so I made straw spiritual. If I see a material, what shocks me, what makes me think, then I know that there's something in, and then I have to find it out by practicing, by thinking, by building something. I remember when I discovered the lead. I was so attracted by this material, the lead, and I didn't know why. Then I found out in alchemy, it plays a big role. It's the first step on the way to get gold. And then I used it for, I think I started to use it in the seventies, and I use it until now. They warn me, they say that it's dangerous and all. I think it's lead and me, that's one thing that cannot be dangerous. With "Melancholia" I was always interested in airplanes, you know? But this is in lead, so it's a paradox. I like this, because it's a plane out of lead is fantastic, no? Because it pretends something, and it doesn't. That's a geometric cube that Dürer used in his "Melancholia". The dust, in combination with this geometric form is nice, because it shows the order, the geometric order, and it shows chaos, what dust is. So I like the opposition of these two things. That's the main question: in my studio I have a quite big studio, and there, it's always important to have some edge between order and and chaos. If you do too much order, then it's finished. You know? It's not good. If its too much chaos, you cannot work anymore. It's too much ideas and things. You have always to find a very nice way between order and disorder.