The Argonauts, 1990

Hardly another German artist has so intensely explored politics and history, the repressed heritage of the Third Reich, or the history of the religion and ideas of the East and West alike. Among the objects of Kiefer’s interest are the formative texts of the Bible, classical mythology and the Kabbalah. Yet the artist does not develop his oeuvre on the conceptual level. On the contrary: he begins with the production, only gradually discovering the possible content as he works.

The same applies to “The Argonauts”. According to the myth, Jason set out with his fifty strongest warriors on the ship Argo to retrieve the Golden Fleece for his family. Kiefer recounts that he initially worked with elements such as teeth, shards and clothing before he saw the references to the myth: “Jason has to sow the teeth of a vanquished dragon… here we have the teeth. Or the part about Medea taking revenge on Glauce, Jason’s second wife. She gives her a beautiful dress which has been coated with poison. When Glauce puts it on, she immediately dissolves into nothingness … here we have the dress.” On the boundary between panel painting and relief, the work thus invites associative interpretation – but defies “explanation”.

© Anselm Kiefer, Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK


Acrylic, ashes, lead, wire holder, glass, chalk, plastic figures, loam, oil, porcelain, snakeskin, straw, textiles and teeth on canvas
280 × 500 cm
Inv. No. SG 1278