Disorders at the Borders
: Memories of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the Paintings of Anselm Kiefer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In the winter of 2014/15, the Royal Academy in London presented a major Kiefer retrospective, and the artist himself turned 70 in 2015. Furthermore, January 2015 saw the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the Holocaust has been a recurring theme in his work. The commencement of this project therefore seemed like a propitious moment to attempt to add to the academic literature concerning this artist, which although fairly extensive nevertheless contains a notable gap, namely the extent to which his practice relates to the discourse of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk -- even though it has been often invoked in his connection. The aim of my research is therefore to try to theorize this relationship, with specific reference to Kiefer’s painting. I will show that what connects Wagner with Kiefer is an aspiration to borderless-ness, between art and society on the one hand and between the individual arts on the other. I will also show, however, that these are aspects of a single underlying connection, the legacy of the Counter-Enlightenment.

My conclusion will be that a case can be made that Kiefer’s work constitutes the continuation into the twenty-first century of principal themes embodied in the Gesamtkunstwerk, but that these same themes are not antithetical to modernism.
Date of Award6 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorSimon Shaw-Miller (Supervisor)

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