Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945)
Watercolor, gouache, and acrylic on paper
16 3/8 x 21 7/8 in. (41.6 x 55.6 cm)
Gift of Cynthia Hazen Polsky, in memory of her father, Joseph H. Hazen, 2000 (2000.96.7)
In the early 1980s, Kiefer made more than thirty paintings, painted photographs, and watercolors that refer in their titles and inscriptions to the Romanian Jewish writer Paul Celan's "Todesfuge" ("Death Fugue"), a poem composed in German in late 1944 and 1945. Celan's parents, along with many other Jews from Czernowitz, Romania, where he had been raised, were killed in the Trisnistria camp in eastern Romania in 1942. Celan himself endured two years of forced labor under the Germans, after which he exiled himself to Paris until his suicide in 1970.
Celan's "Death Fugue," widely read and anthologized in postwar Germany, is set in an extermination camp. Its narrative voice, in the first person plural, is that of the camp's Jewish inmates who suffer under the strict watch of the camp's blue-eyed commandant. Singing "your golden hair, Margarete / your ashen hair, Shulamith," the narrators contrast German womanhood, as personified by Margarete, to whom the commandant addresses letters at night (she is named after Goethe's heroine, Gretchen, in Faust), and Jewish womanhood (Shulamith was King Solomon's dark-haired beloved in the Song of Songs). Here, as in most of Kiefer's Margarete works, the German heroine is depicted only by the synecdoche of her "golden hair," in the form of sheaves of wheat in the countryside.