Anselm Kiefer, Väinämöinen Ilmarinen, 2018


In his large-scale works, German Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) deals with themes that have their reference in history and mythology as well as philosophy and literature. Väinämöinen Ilmarinen is the first ever painting by Kiefer which was acquired for the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation’s collection.

The characteristic features of Anselm Kiefer’s art are discernible in his work Väinämöinen Ilmarinen (2018). A sizeable painting, it depicts a landscape of arable fields which rather resembles a scorched and bombed battlefield. The horizon line is at a very high position. Like often with Kiefer, both cursive text and independent three-dimensional elements have additionally been integrated to the work.

References to literature and mythology are recurrent in Kiefer’s oeuvre. The artist has dealt with for example Germanic mythology and Kabbala but has also shown interest in Finnish national epic Kalevala. Kiefer read Kalevala already in the late 1970s and early 1980s and has in recent years once again returned to the literary piece and found inspiration in its poems. This is also evident in the painting’s name Väinämöinen iIlmarinen. The battered landscape in the painting hardly is connected merely with fields of the Pohya, the moorlands of Kalevala.

In Kiefer’s output, history and mythologies are universal. The stories of different countries and cultures contain similar themes and corresponding characters. In the painting, Ilmarinen who is attributed to the aircraft was not only Kalevala’s heroic smith but also the creator of the dome of the sky and setter of celestial bodies. Väinämöinen, on the other hand, has been deemed to contributing in the creation of the Earth. In Greek mythology, for example, Uranus and Gaia played similar roles.

Moreover, Väinämöinen was a skilled carver of boats. Has the submarine rusted in order to better remind us of the “brass and copper boat” in which Väinämöinen sailed away from his people? The rusty submarine which has rushed to the dry land refers on the other hand also to the melancholy inherent in Kiefer’s art. The artist emphasizes constantly how beauty and glamour are ephemeral, and all human effort will turn to ashes in the end. The mankind does not learn from its mistakes. 

War is one of the important themes that Kiefer still works on in his paintings. Artist is renowned specially for art pieces in which he deals with the tragic heritage which national socialism, the second World war and holocaust have left behind in Germany. In the painting Väinämöinen Ilmarinen, the aircraft and the submarine constitute a refence to the war. Then again, scorched grapes in Kiefer’s art are also reminiscent of lines of soldiers’ graves.

Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen were also the names of Finnish battleships. Ilmarinen sunk in 1941 after it had collided with a sea mine. The vessel took 271 members of the staff with it. Finnish submarines have also been named after mythical creatures, such as Iku-Turso featured in Kalevala’s mythology or Vetehinen and Vesihiisi emerging also from waterways of folklore.

Kiefer has attached submarines and aircrafts to his works also previously. Such examples from his earlier output include Farewell to England (1994), Journey to the End of the Night (2002) and Essence – Existence(2011). In one part of the last-mentioned vast triptych, a submarine has hit the dry land in the mountains and a mythical, or in this case rather a biblical reference is activated along with the name Noah that is written in the top left corner of the painting. All three paintings are comprised in Hans Grothe Collection and were exhibited at Serlachius Museums’ comprehensive Kiefer exhibition in 2015–2016 in Mänttä. 

Väinämöinen Ilmarinen was acquired for Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation’s collection with the assistance of Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén, director of Albright-Knox Art Museum. Sirén is also the chair of the board of Anselm Kiefer’s art foundation. Kiefer donated the work as a contribution to the fund-raising campaign organised for an extension to the Albright-Knox Art Museum. Instead of auctioning it however, the artwork was offered directly to the Serlachius Museums.

Tomi Moisio

Anselm Kiefer, Väinämöinen Ilmarinen, 2018, emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellack, rope and lead on canvas, 280 x 380 cm, copyright: Ⓒ Anselm Kiefer.
Anselm Kiefer, Väinämöinen Ilmarinen, 2018, emulsion, oil, acrylic, shellac, rope and lead on canvas, 280 x 380 cm, copyright: Ⓒ Anselm Kiefer.