Catalogue entry: Evil redeemed and humanity's cruelty purified are the themes of this powerful image based on the courtyard of Adolf Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin, designed by Albert Speer (1905-1981). Much of Anselm Kiefer's art explores German history and nationalism, and this painting belongs to a series inspired by Nazi architecture. The seemingly straightforward architectural view is laden with references to horrifying events that occurred during World War II. Kiefer inscribed the painting's arcane title Athanor on the canvas twice: on the lintel above the center columns and on the upper left edge of the sky. An athanor is a legendary self-feeding furnace said to have been used by medieval alchemists to transform base metals into gold. Although the goal of the alchemist was physical, the alchemical process sometimes referred to the soul's quest for union with God. Conversely, because the process mysteriously hastened physical change, alchemy was sometimes condemned as unnatural and contrary to God's will, and therefore evil. Here, the partly obliterated word over the doors at the end of the courtyard alludes to the doors of the ovens where millions were incinerated at Hitler's order. The black grid lines on the paving suggest the railroads that transported victims to their deaths. As if utilizing the alchemy themselves, the Nazis pathologically believed that they were purifying society by destroying Jews and other so-called undesirable minorities. Kiefer scorched sections of this painting with a torch. The singed canvas symbolizes redemptive suffering and purification through fire. Kiefer believes that artists, like alchemists, have the power to transmute events; that art, like alchemy, can transform dross into gold, evil into good. This painting epitomizes his intense faith that in acknowledging the tragedies of history, learning from them, and transforming images associated with them into symbols of hope, humanity can achieve a better future.
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey