2 Mar 2016
Anselm Kiefer’s Heroic Symbols photographs document a series of art ‘actions’, undertaken in 1969, which involved the artist performing the taboo Sieg Heil salute in private and public spaces in various European locations. Several hundred photographs were taken for this extensive performance project, but only some were developed at the time. Those that were printed were utilised for various purposes: they featured in Kiefer’s unique book projects made later that same year, provided motifs for large-scale paintings he produced in 1970, and were published as a photo-essay in the conceptual art magazine Interfunktionen in 1975. The photographs have since been reutilised by Kiefer for many mixed media artworks and installations, and since 2007 he has enlarged many more photographs from the original negatives. The various subsequent reuses of the photographs collectively represent the reverberation of this powerful gesture throughout Kiefer’s career.
This In Focus project is the most detailed investigation of the Heroic Symbols series to date, exploring the multiple uses and inspirations of the photographs across the artist’s work. It examines Kiefer’s motivations for performing such a taboo gesture and considers the difficult reception of the Sieg Heil ‘action’. The project also places the work in a wider cultural context with respect to the artist’s mentors and peers, particularly Joseph Beuys, and considers Kiefer’s performance in relation to the post-war societal and psychological condition that many Germans referred to as Vergangenheitsbewältigung (‘coming to terms with the past’).
Published in February 2016, the project is authored by Dr Christian Weikop (University of Edinburgh) and includes contributions from Dr Lara Day (Artsy, Berlin) and Dr Hannah Abdullah (Goethe-Institut, New York).