Behind the scenes: Anselm Kiefer’s studio at Barjac

Published 18 August 2014

In the lead-up to his major RA exhibition this autumn, we take a look inside the artist’s huge “gesamtkunstwerk” in the south of France.

  • The artist Anselm Kiefer moved to Barjac, near Nîmes in the south of France, in 1992. Over time, his home and studio complex there - built on the site of an abandoned silk factory - expanded to include a series of extraordinary interventions in the landscape.

    From excavations underground, to vast vitrine-like glasshouses and a group of towers built from concrete casts of shipping containers like those displayed in the RA courtyard in 2007, these combine to form a “gesamtkunstwerk” or total work of art. Known as La Ribaute, the site was the subject of a documentary by Sophie Fiennes called Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, released in 2010.

    Kiefer has compared his studios to laboratories, and says they are also akin to refineries or mines. Although he now lives and works in Paris, Barjac continues to provide many of the materials for his work, such as the huge sunflowers that are grown there from seeds imported from Japan. It also acts as an exhibition venue, displaying sculptures, paintings and installations in some 50 different enclosures across the site.

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  • Far away from the pristine world of the art gallery, some of these are open to the elements - ants and butterflies make their way inside; water pools on a concrete floor, startled bats flap away from visitors in the maze of underground tunnels. The artist often allows the natural world to stage its own intervention in his work, and has described leaving canvases outside to weather in the wind, rain and sun.

    “Like no place else on earth, Anselm Kiefer’s Barjac takes you inside the artist’s head and under his skin,” says Kathleen Soriano, who is curating our exhibition.

    “Wandering through this landscape, populated by his artistic creations, is an awe-inspiring experience revealing a contemporary yet almost ancient kingdom over which an abundant nature is slowly staking her claim, as Kiefer would hope she would.”

    In the video above, narrated by the RA’s Director of Artistic Programmes, Tim Marlow, we pay a visit to Barjac and discover some of the extraordinary work on display there.

    Anselm Kiefer is at the Royal Academy from 27 September — 14 December 2014.