Anselm Kiefer: Collecting what is Broken. Works from the Chevirat Ha-Kelim (breaking of the Wessels) Cycle

Keywords: Anselm Kiefer, modern art, Breaking of the Vessels, Isaak Luria, Kabbalah, destruction, repair, collecting


Anselm Kiefer (a German artist born in 1945) began working on the Chevirat ha-kelim (Breaking of the vessels) cycle in 1990. It is based on the Kabbalistic theory of Isaac Luria (1534-1572) and Nathan of Gaza (1644-1680). Luria, a mystic and founder of the Orthodox Kabbalah, and Nathan of Gaza are the founders of a Kabbalistic myth that corresponds to the historical experiences of the Jewish people.

This myth focuses on three great symbols: cimcum (“shrinking” – i.e., God withdraws himself, through which the world can come into being through emanation), shevira (“breaking of the vessels”) and tikkun olam (“repair”), the Kabbalistic doctrine of the role of man repairing the world.

Since the mid-1980s, when the artist began to use lead, ash, shellac and clay in his works, his thoughts and works have been related to Jewish culture. The Chevirat ha-kelim series of works, which have been shown since 1985 in different places of the world, consists of sculptures, paintings and objects related to the dramatic process of world creation, understood as a cosmic catastrophe.

In Jewish mythology, like in Kiefer's works, shells of clay pots, broken discs, molten lead cards of monumental books and a lead plane with a “crossed” wing are the symbols of destruction. A world marked by a catastrophe requires repair and restoration of original harmony.

Through this symbolism, Kiefer’s works testify, on the one hand, to a melancholic memory that refers to the creation of historical reality (Nazism, Holocaust crimes and their presence in the present). On the other hand, the transmission of his art is linked to the Jewish tradition of faith in the possibility of restoration, of bringing the broken together, and the hope that by working to restore the original order (tikkun olam), redemption, reunification and reconciliation will be achieved. This aspect of Kiefer’s work applies as much to the ethical relationship as to our interaction with myths and religions which presuppose the metaphysics of reality


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