Disorders at the Borders

In Search of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the Paintings of Anselm Kiefer

by Matt Wates (Author)
Monographs X, 310 Pages
Series: German Visual Culture , Volume 9


Although Anselm Kiefer’s work is routinely compared with the Gesamtkunstwerk, the «total work of art» pioneered by Richard Wagner, Disorders at the Borders represents the first time this relationship has been thoroughly investigated. But it is a relationship that involves much more than just aesthetics. Furthermore, it is a highly ambivalent one. The Gesamtkunstwerk was an embodiment of a certain view of nationhood, and nationhood is a concept that Kiefer has spent much of his career rendering thoroughly problematic. But Wagner’s innovative, inclusive art form was intended above all as a counter to the individualism that the composer was far from alone in identifying as the besetting sin of modernity, and that was widely thought at the time to be most evident in America. It can thus be contextualized within the long German tradition of counter-Americanism – as, to a large extent, can Kiefer. For whilst he owes his spectacular success in no small degree to the positive reception of his work in America, he has throughout his career displayed a resistance to the artistic influence of that country. Moreover, he and Wagner take a mutual stance regarding a series of questions: can art be separated from society, or the individual arts from each other? Is painting purely visual, and music purely sonic? Do things, in short, ever really exist or operate in isolation? That they answer in the negative to all of these is what, ultimately, connects Kiefer with Wagner.


X, 310
ISBN (Book)
aesthetics Gesamtkunstwerk Richard Wagner artistic autonomy and purity counter-Americanism Disorders at the Borders Matt Wates
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. X, 310 pp., 8 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Matt Wates (Author)

Matt Wates holds a PhD in History of Art from Bristol University, where he is currently a lecturer. He previously worked as a professional musician for thirty years and his research reflects his joint interest in music and the history of art.


Title: Disorders at the Borders