Anselm Kiefer, ‘Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (Journey to the End of the Night)’, 2004, Phillips

Property of an Important European Collector

From the Catalogue:
Standing almost two metres tall and absorbing the viewer in its vast, variegated surface, Anselm Kiefer’s Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) is a monumental canvas from 2004. From a distance, this painting resembles a stellar chart, the constellations marked out by lines linking the various stars. On closer inspection, the sheer wealth of texture and detail becomes apparent: Kiefer has ensured that the entire surface is caked and impastoed. Scattered paint drops add iridescence while the background itself resembles an arid landscape, bringing the terrestrial and the celestial into alignment, hinting at the bond between existence on and above the Earth. The lines themselves are picked out with thin metal strips— as is the case in Kiefer’s most celebrated works, he has incorporated a range of materials in the picture, deigning to limit himself to the traditional oil on canvas.

Just like its surface, on closer inspection the ever-shifting meanings and references of Voyage au Bout de la Nuit reveal themselves to be highly complex. Kiefer began to explore the constellations soon after he had moved to the South of France. He often based his paintings on the night sky there. Kiefer’s long-standing interest in the mingling currents of science, myth and belief find their perfect expression in his constellations: after all, the cosmos forms the foundation for both astronomy and astrology. The lines picked out in Voyage au Bout de la Nuit adopt the visual language of horoscopes and NASA alike. Mankind has long sought to impose some sort of logic upon the wild, infinite above us, and Kiefer’s painting seeks to mimic the history of these attempts.

With its title invoking a journey to the end of the night, Voyage au Bout de la Nuit sounds almost romantic. Yet it is taken from the most famous novel of Louis Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au Bout de la Nuit. This introduces another tangled web of references: while the novel Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, published in 1932, remains celebrated as one of the most visceral works of 20th-century literature, the author himself is often reviled for his racism and his collaboration with occupying forces during the Second World War. Kiefer has used Voyage au Bout de la Nuit as the title for a number of works and an acclaimed exhibition. It perfectly reflects his own fascination with the grand morass of history and humanity, which so much defies logic and categorisation. Céline’s novel was considered semi-autobiographical, and charted its main character’s experiences as he became more cynical, abandoning the rigid security of science and idealism. In Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, Kiefer too is probing the fallible nature of these ways of seeing the world, hinting at the dangers that can lurk behind any philosophy—even Céline’s nihilism. This painting slyly reinforces the warning inherent in its own critique by enticing the viewer with the lure of star-speckled skies: with its formidable scale and resplendent surface Voyage au Bout de la Nuit probes, and embraces, the sublime.
Courtesy of Phillips

Texas, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Anselm Kiefer. Heaven and Earth, 25 September 2005 - 14 January 2007, p. 149 (illustrated)
Venice, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Anselm Kiefer: Salt of the Earth, 1 June - 30 November 2011, p. 185 (illustrated)

Galerie Bastian, Berlin
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer critically engages with myth and memory, referencing totems of German culture and collective history. “Germans want to forget [the past] and start a new thing all the time, but only by going into the past can you go into the future,” he says. Revealing the influence of his tutelage under Joseph Beuys, Kiefer's epic-scaled, dense sculptures and paintings are often exposed to elements like acid and fire, and incorporate materials such as lead, burned books, concrete, thorny branches, ashes, and clothing; famed critic and historian Simon Schama has described his work as “heavy-load maximalism.” Kiefer’s vast-ranging references have included the Black Forest, Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and Caspar David Friedrich’s Romantic landscapes, as well as Kabbalah mysticism, Cold War politics, National Socialist architecture, and Paul Celan’s seminal body of post-Holocaust poetry. “Art is difficult,” he says. “It’s not entertainment.”

German, b. 1945, Donauschingen, Germany, based in France