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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the large contemporary galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at a really large canvas by Anselm Kiefer it's hard to even call it a canvas because the surface is so built-up that there is no reference to the flatness of the cloth under layer this looks as much object as it does painting if you look at it from the side you can see it undulating its relief sculpture is very thickly painted and Kiefer certainly taking advantage of the sculptural qualities of the paint I'm not even comfortable calling it paint when we think about the application of paint we generally think about relatively thin material it's applied with a brush occasionally with a palette knife when I look at this surface I think about the tools that one uses to dig in the ground there is something really personal about this surface especially considering the palette is very earthy as well by the way a lot of this is not painters shellac they're certain the resins that are dripped and sculpted in the surface here so painting question mark and this artist is known to burn his materials on the canvas he's known to apply molten led to the surfaces of his works of art he also adds a lot of natural materials like straw which decay and discolor and perhaps become brittle and fall off quite rapidly it sounds like a conservators nightmare well in a way yes if we think back to European traditional paintings from guilds and academies etc there are very well qualified recipes for how a painters allowed to make a painting part of that is about how to make a beautiful painting but in fact an equal part of it is about how to make a painting that lasts because after all many of these are religious painting is part of the meaning is there timelessness or other one's the commodities this is a business transaction you don't want to buy something that falls apart but here in the late 20th and 21st century we have artists who are ending that idea of the eternal nature of a work of art thinking about the idea that a work of art can change over time in fact this begins not in the 20 but in the 19th century this is modernism now on the one hand the idea that an artist can use any material in any process to make a work of art is very exciting because now creative possibilities explode in so many different directions on the other hand there are some very dramatic consequences where things don't necessarily stay as structurally sound as stable as they used to since we're disregarding many of those recipes and even here with this painting you get the sense of the stress from the weight of the paint pulling on the under support which in this case is burlap we're looking at an extreme example of deviations from classical painting techniques but what's really interesting here is that now with the 21st century especially artists are beginning to find sources of meaning in the aging processes of their materials it's such an irony because now when we have a greater understanding of the chemistry of works of art than ever before in history we're creating works that are ever more ephemeral and certainly this is not that new of an idea if we go back to the sculptures of Nam gabbo gabbo is using the first plastics invented as soon as they were invented now there's no way that this kind of idea would ever been permissible if you're working in a guild or an academy because there's no guarantee how that's going to age and gaba was interested in them because they were new but unlike cava kefir is still referencing traditional materials this is a vertical canvas it's still a colored paste that is applied to that surface it is still painting in some respects but as we look in this painting we see huge cracks in fact we see big chunks of the painting that have fallen off now if we can imagine that same chunk if it had fallen off from let's say a 19th century academic painting this is disastrous you can't even see the painting anymore so this raises really interesting questions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art does it collect those pieces as they fall off does it restore those pieces where does it decide to intervene well having worked on a number of papers myself I can tell you yes we do collect them but I've worked on keepers that believe they're not or three or four times as large as this one and I have large chunks of paint that I just can't find where they came from so I saved them but I have no idea where that puzzle piece came from and Kieffer himself has been somewhat nonchalant in his response saying if something comes off let's just put it back on he's inviting paints to fall off the pages what's the reason behind that how does the material help to affect his message Kieffer's very poetic artists and so much of his poetry is about these very dramatic appearances of decay and fragility so much of his work references this German and Austrian consciousness of history especially the dark chapters this is a painting that is clearly a landscape we see two tire tracks that are moving through the center of the canvas into the distance we see a black sky narrows band just above the horizon line so the field fill our entire view and for me this is always a reminder of the soil of the German heartland which in the 1970s and 80s was a very brave act at a moment when Germany was just coming to terms with its immediate past so many of his paintings address these dreams of history that no longer work there's a kind of nostalgia that he's addressing poetically with these materials that themselves fail crack fall apart I think it's easy for us to forget how much Germany had contributed to civilization and so many German intellectuals never believed that somebody like Hitler could take power and it feels like in Kieffer's layering process this archeology of paint that Keiffer is able to expose those layers of history even as he builds a paint that he knows will eventually fall off on the one hand we can consider this an excavation of a painting on the other hand I think we can consider Keepers work in the excavation of the German consciousness [Music]