The National Gallery has acquired a monumental recent painting by Anselm Kiefer, the 45-year-old German-born expressionist now widely regarded as one of the greatest of living European painters.
A gift from the National Gallery's Collectors Committee, the painting was purchased from the artist through a New York dealer for an undisclosed sum exceeding $750,000. It was placed on view yesterday with other works from the 20th-century collections, in the Concourse galleries of the East Building.
Titled "Zim Zum," the 1990 work measures 12 1/2 by 18 1/2 feet and is constructed from interlocking horizontal sheets of lead, the artist's signature medium of late. Some areas of lead have been left exposed and worked to produce a wide array of subtle metallic hues. Other areas are covered with canvas which is either painted or distressed by the use of fire, paint, crayon, ashes, sand, lead dust and clay dust.
The painting, which weighs close to 1,000 pounds, has Kiefer's typically weighty subject matter as well: nothing less than the Creation itself. The title, which is written out on the surface, refers to the Judaic concept of the tsimtsum, or moment of creation, as described in the cabala, a Jewish mystical system of scriptural interpretation.
The dominant image is a typical Kiefer landscape affixed to the bottom half of the work: a deeply furrowed, seemingly charred field, seen in sharp perspective. Thickly painted, the scene seems, at once, to zoom into and out of its own vanishing point at the preternaturally dark, yet glowing horizon. It seems to tell a tale of creation that carries within it its own seeds of destruction.
It is the second major Kiefer painting to enter a Washington museum. In 1985, the Hirshhorn acquired an earlier monumental work titled "The Book," which was featured in Kiefer's triumphant 1988 retrospective, which traveled to Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York.
The Collectors Committee was originally set up to raise funds to commission works by living artists for the East Building. Since then, its 100 members, many of them major collectors from around the country, have continued to contribute $5,000 and now $10,000 each year to make continued annual gifts of 20th-century art possible. All selections are made from a larger group of works proposed by the 20th-century department curators. Last year's gifts included three sculptures: a Joel Shapiro "Untitled" bronze, Martin Puryear's "Lever #3" in black pine, and the silly Samaras "Mirrored Cell," one of its less felicitous choices.
This year, the Collectors Committee also made possible the acquisition of several prints and photographs through its newly constituted curatorial discretionary fund, which allows curators to take advantage of less pricey opportunities as they arise. Purchases this year, just announced, include prints by Robert Mangold, Alice Neel and Louise Nevelson, as well as photographs by Harry Callahan.