Anselm Kiefer: success from Lyon to Beijing


There is plenty to see by German artist Anselm Kiefer at the Lyon Biennale. Having lived and worked in France since 1993, Kiefer is particularly appreciated in his country of adoption and has received numerous French awards for his work over the years. His work has been the subject of major exhibitions, including Monumenta at the Grand Palais, the Pompidou Center and France’s National Library. He also receives strong support on the UK and American markets (which account for 83% of his turnover over the last 10 years) and his work has recently conquered the Chinese market…

Anselm Kiefer ©thierry Ehrmann – Courtesy Musée de L’Organe / La Demeure du Chaos

Anselm Kiefer ©thierry Ehrmann – Courtesy Musée de L’Organe / La Demeure du Chaos

In dialogue with the spirituality of concrete

In resonance with the Lyon Contemporary Art Biennale, Anselm Kiefer (born in 1945 in Donaueschingen) has work showing at the Tourette Convent, a building designed by Le Corbusier in the 1950s. This isn’t Kiefer’s first encounter with the convent. He stayed at the convent for three weeks in 1966 when he was 21. It is there, he confides, that he discovered Le Corbusier’s “spirituality of concrete”. It was a decisive moment, because upon his return from the convent, Kiefer chose to follow the path of the arts and enrolled in the Schools of Fine Arts in Freiburg im Breisgau and Karlsruhe. Fifty years later, the Dominican friars invited him back to exhibit works ‘in dialogue with the Corbusean architecture that had such an influence on him’. The catalogue of the exhibition pays tribute to this ‘return of the artist’, and includes a transcript of the diary kept by Kiefer during his first visit.

In the past, the exhibition’s curator Brother Marc Chauveau has invited François Morellet, Anish KAPOOR and Ufan LEE to La Tourette Convent in association with the Lyon Biennale. Each artist has made special creations for the convent… works that inhabit the place rather than just being exhibited in it. Anselm Kiefer’s works resonate particularly well, from the raw aspect of the materials used (lead, cement, plaster, etc.) to references to sacred and/or philosophical texts. In addition to the selected works, the artist has created a specific monumental installation for the chapel. Resurrection covers over 42 m2 on the ground with huge blocks of concrete, a chaos from which rise large white sunflowers… symbols of ruin and rebirth.

Kiefer’s market: a record in Beijing

European artists fetching high prices in Asia are still very rare. Anselm KIEFER is now part of this privileged club. An important work – powerful in treatment and monumental in format (The fertile crescent, 475 x 950 cm) – reached $4 million last June during a sale organized in Beijing by China Guardian (3 June 2019), a sufficiently rare result to deserve a special mention.

Anselm KIEFER (1945), The fertile crescent (新月沃土)

Anselm KIEFER (1945), The fertile crescent (新月沃土)

Kiefer’s best works are usually sold in London or New York, the two drivers of the artist’s high-end market. Three years ago, Poly Huayi in Shanghai sold his Wurzel Jesse for nearly $500,000; but the $4 million hammered for for The Fertile Crescent is the artist’s new world record.

China’s validation of Kiefer’s success illustrates the rapid evolution of the Contemporary Art Market, becoming globalized after years of work by market professionals opening doors to Western artists in the East. The seller acquired the masterpiece from the White Cube Gallery in Hong Kong which has played an important role in the outreach of European artists to Asian collectors. White Cube exhibited Kiefer in Hong Kong in 2012 as part of the solo exhibition Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom. A knowingly ironic title, referring both to the flowery landscapes of the selected works, and to Chairman Mao’s Hundred Flowers Movement in 1956.

A major artist recognized for the power of his work and his exhibitions, Anselm Kiefer is at last being recognised by the international market. Our 2018/19 Contemporary Art Market Report (TOP 500) confirms Kiefer’s market status: his work generated the 31st highest auction turnover total in the world.