Anselm Kiefer: The German artist looking history’s horrors in the eye

The greatest of our gallery spaces are a challenge to fill, but the canvases of Anselm Kiefer, in the exhibition that opens at the Royal Academy on Saturday, make light work of it. Created with colossal labour over a period of many years in his successive huge studios – one a former silk factory in the south of France, the next an abandoned supermarket warehouse on the outskirts of Paris – these are paintings and multimedia works to dwarf the greatest that Titian or Michelangelo could manage, and that throb with the same mythological passions that produced Wagner’s great operas.

What on earth can an artist do, padding about among the shameful ruins of the civilisation that produced him? Here, in one gigantic, tormented, volcanic work after another, is Anselm Kiefer’s answer. And it makes him, in the eyes of many, the world’s greatest living artist.

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