Anselm Kiefer’s first site-specific outdoor sculpture commissioned for America is preparing to fly away tomorrow. Since the beginning of May, the German artist’s mythological “Uraeus” has been perched at the front of Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center, its impressive wings spread wide, a snake winding up its column, an open, blank book at its center, with other books strewn around the ground, as if victims of some kind of apocalypse. Reaching twenty feet high and boasting a wing span of thirty feet, the gray lead, stainless steel, fiberglass, and resin sculpture was inspired by the Egyptian cobra, the serpent goddess Wadjet, and the vulture goddess Nekhbet in addition to the surrounding architecture of Rockefeller Center and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “This book, with a voice bridging centuries, is not only the highest book there is, the book that is truly characterized by the air of the heights — the whole fact of man lies beneath it at a tremendous distance — it is also the deepest, born out of the innermost wealth of truth, an inexhaustible well to which no pail descends without coming up again filled with gold and goodness,” Nietzsche wrote about his 1891 tome.
Meanwhile, Wadjet and Nekhbet, the Two Ladies, symbolize Egypt’s unification in ancient times, evoking numerous kinds of unification needed here in the US and around the globe to bring people together. Thus, it is no accident that the sculpture, a project of the Public Art Fund, fits right in at Rockefeller Center, a major tourist destination in the city. Kiefer, who has worked with lead and books throughout his half-century career, leaves the pages empty, as if viewers can stand at the lecternlike design and share their own ideas while also contemplating the potential death of the written word. Be sure to walk all around the installation to get its full effect; at one angle, it looks like the snake’s tongue is heading toward the American flag. “Art will survive its ruins,” Kiefer declared in a series of lectures he gave in Paris. He has also said, paraphrasing the Gospel According to John, “Where art is, we cannot reach.” You have only a few more days to experience this deeply philosophical, visually stunning work by one of the world’s most beguiling artists.