15 Apr 2016 12:00 AM | Deleted user

I have long been familiar with the work of German artist Anselm Kiefer in terms of his large scale paintings and mixed media work with themes rooted in German history, myth and culture, including confronting the cultural impact of the Third Reich. But I was surprised to see his sculptural work which directly centers on the form of the book and its expansive terrain of symbolism, which I experienced at The Margulies Collection in Florida. A bit of internet research quickly yielded a significant body of work focused on the book which has an important place in the book arts domain.

As opposed to William Kentridge, whose artist’s books leverage the intimacy and the potential for personal interaction of the book, Kiefer works with the book form on a monumental and more abstracted level. “Derived from his interest in mythology, history, and knowledge, Kiefer often uses books as subject matter representing knowledge and civilization. Similarly, he frequently incorporates text into his paintings, including excerpts from poems, novels, and nationalist slogans as well as names of seminal figures, written in a scrawling script.” (

His creation of monumental books with pages of lead, an element noted for both its toxicity and for its alchemical purposes, are central elements for a number of large scale works, including two at the Margulies Collection, shown below. “The ideology of alchemy is the hastening of time, as in the lead-silver-gold cycle which needed only time in order to transform lead into gold. In the past the alchemist sped up this process with magical means. That was called magic. As an artist I don’t do anything differently, I only accelerate the transformation that is already present in things. That is magic as I understand it.” (Anselm Kiefer, quoted in the Margulies Collection exhibit.)

Sprache du Vogel (or Language of the Birds) has a stack of large book forms made of lead as the central body attached to enormous, expansive wings. The book as the symbol of transformational knowledge, enlightenment and an internal freedom emanates from the presence of this work.

Die Erdzeitalter (or Ages of the World) is another monumental work with a stack of Kiefer’s abandoned canvases interspersed with sunflower stalk sculptural pieces and large books made entirely of lead. The book form here appears to relate more to processes of learning and understanding: books as repositories of knowledge and touchstones for greater personal development, as catalysts of transformation.

Sprache du Vogel 
(The Language of Birds) (image by the author)

Die Erzeitalter (image from

Die Erzeitalter (The Ages of the World) (image by the author)

Other major works which incorporate large scale sculptural books include Breaking of the Vessels (see; The High Priestess/Zwiestromland (see; Buch (The Secret Life of Plants) (see


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