The architectural structure in this monumental painting was likely inspired by a brickworks that Kiefer saw while traveling in India. That building was in a perpetual state of construction and destruction: newly made bricks were stacked on top of it and then replaced as they were sold. Plumes of smoke suggest the fires within. Taken out of its socio-historical context, this building becomes an allegory of ephemerality. The stepped pyramidal form recalls the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs, Babylonian ziggurats, and Meso-American teocalli, all remnants of ancient cultures. The words in the corners translate to earth (upper right), sky (upper left), divinity (lower right), and mortals (lower left), which are the fundamental elements of German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s (1889–1976) concept of “das Geviert” (the square), a hymn to dwelling on the earth articulated in “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” (1954).

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Anselm Kiefer, German, born 1945
  • Das Geviert
Date 1997
Medium emulsion, acrylic, shellac, burnt clay, clay, wire, and sand on three panels of stretched linen or linen and cotton canvas
Dimensions Overall: 110 1/2 inches × 24 feet 7 1/4 inches × 3 inches (280.7 cm × 7 m 49.9 cm × 7.6 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, W. Hawkins Ferry Fund and partial gift of the Sosnick Family in memory of Robert Sosnick
Accession Number 2003.20
Department Contemporary Art after 1950
Not On View
Inscriptions Upper left: Himmel (Heaven)
upper right: Erde (Earth)
upper center: Das Geviert 6 7 (Square or Four-square)
lower left: die Sterblichen (Mortals)
lower right: die Gottlichen (Gods)
The Gagosian Gallery, SoHo, New York 1997-1998;
Collection of Robert and Susan Sosnick, Bloomfield Hills, MI 1998-2003
Huyssen, A. "Anselm Kiefer: The Terror of History, the Temptation of Myth." October 48 (Spring 1989): 25-45.

Frankel, D. "Anselm Kiefer." Art Forum (May 1998): 144.