Anselm Kiefer
Osiris und Isis (Osiris and Isis), 1985-1987

Though metaphysics and spirituality have always interested Kiefer, it was the processes of memory that most influenced his first three decades of art making. In Osiris und Isis, an ancient Egyptian myth becomes a potent allegory for Germany’s struggle with the legacy of World War II.

Osiris, the god of the underworld, was murdered by his jealous brother, Set, who dispersed his body parts across the land. Osiris’s grieving widow, Isis, searched for his remains, literally “re-membering” and resurrecting him. The parable’s theme of destruction and renewal speaks directly to Kiefer’s interest in reassembling and reclaiming elements of Germany’s history and identity at a time when so many of his compatriots seemed intent on forgetting.

Kiefer illustrates humanity’s quest for heaven through an immense, stepped temple that dominates the scene. A television circuit board connects copper wires and shards of a porcelain plumbing fixture, which, scattered across the vast canvas, allude to Osiris’s strewn body parts. By conflating contemporary elements with a mythological story, Kiefer connects the modern and ancient worlds, forging a new, universal image of reunification and synthesis (with scars still intact).

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Osiris und Isis (Osiris and Isis)
Artist name
Anselm Kiefer
Date created
oil and acrylic emulsion with additional three-dimensional media
149 1/2 × 221 × 9 1/2 in. (379.73 × 561.34 × 24.13 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Jean Stein by exchange, the Mrs. Paul L. Wattis Fund, and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund
© Anselm Kiefer
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer discusses the meanings behind some of his favorite materials, including straw, cow manure, and lead. He describes how he strives for fluidity and malleability in his work, though conservation can be a challenge.

Kiefer on art, history, and how they’re both subjective: https://youtu.be/dPEcPn85D8w
Watch Kiefer apply molten lead to a canvas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLHVtrfhCHc

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