Anselm Kiefer’s huge studio complex in Barjac in southern France, which has been compared to a ‘human ant hill’, has finally opened to the public after years of planning. The number of visitors to the site, known as La Ribaute, will be limited. “The aim of the Eschaton-Anselm Kiefer Foundation, which manages La Ribaute, is to ensure access to the public – rather than mass tourism – in the coming years,” said Janne Sirén, the chair of the supervisory board of the foundation, and also the director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. “There is a lot of walking involved in a visit to La Ribaute; it is over 40 hectares,” he says.
In 1992, after leaving Germany, Kiefer acquired La Ribaute, an old silk factory in Barjac. The site developed organically, comprising buildings, outdoor art installations, underground chambers and a five-level concrete amphitheater. The artist lived on the 40-hectare site, 70 km northwest of Avignon, until 2007, when he moved to a new studio space in Croissy on the outskirts of Paris.
“There are several art installations in the landscape that are connected by paths and underground tunnels that the artist designed,” Sirén says. “Barjac has remained a secondary studio, especially in the summer season. You could compare the foundation in concept with Marfa [the small city in Texas that has become an arts hub]† it is an artist space now owned by a foundation, with the aim of preserving it for posterity.”
La Ribaute has grown, with over 60 buildings and art areas known as pavilions. “Mr. Kiefer added his own touch to these art spaces; some of them have sculptures, some have paintings,” Sirén says. “In recent years, he has welcomed artists with whom he feels related to contribute permanent installations to La Ribaute’s ecosystem, starting with Wolfgang Laib in 2014. Monica Bonvicini, the latest contributor, will unveil her work in July.” Laurie Anderson and Valie Export have also contributed works.
The project reflects Kiefer’s ‘transnational’ approach, Sirén says. A project statement outlines how the Eschaton-Anselm Kiefer Foundation symbolizes “Kiefer’s interest in the unity of Europe and the constant exchange between cultures”, which includes three countries: Austria (the foundation’s headquarters), Germany (the artist’s birthplace) and France.
Entrance to La Ribaute, open during the summer months, costs €25, although residents of Barjac enter for free. “Mr. Kiefer has been extremely generous to the foundation by providing not only the most important physical asset, but also extensive financial resources. The ticket revenue partially covers our operating expenses and there are the usual ways to raise money, but it all depends on Mr. Kiefer’s generosity in providing operational funding.”
Kiefer has since taken over the immense Sala dello Scrutinio in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, with a series of paintings inspired by Italian masters such as Tintoretto and Andrea Vicentino (until October 29). The enormous works contain zinc, lead, gold, clothing and parts of shopping carts. “My hope is that the works find a home where they can stay together as a beautiful ensemble,” says Sirén. A spokeswoman for Kiefer’s gallery, Gagosian, says the future of the paintings is currently undecided.