Installation view of Anselm Kiefer, Gagosian Gallery

Anselm Kiefer’s show at Gagosian in New York—big, ambitious, devastatingly bleak and yet subtly redemptive—brought Kiefer to New York. (A more in depth response to the show is posted here.) In early November he appeared at the 92nd Street Y to speak with the curator Sir Norman Rosenthal. In reporting on that conversation on the ever provocative and smart art site Hyperallergic, Kyle Chayka captured some of the highlights from that dialogue. As Chayka points out, you will have to imagine the German accent.

On the arduous process of finishing a painting:

Some paintings were started in the 70s, and they’re still not finished. For me it’s not the question to find some finished thing, it’s a process. The process is the most important.

Kiefer likes to keep his paintings together because of this process, “the paintings speak to each other,” he says. The process is all part of the life of a work of art:

Paintings, operas, don’t stop for centuries. Works get discovered, rediscovered, and 50 years later in a different context, the painting could’ve changed completely.

The fact that his paintings sometimes fall apart, the tar-like chunks dropping to gallery floors, are just part of the works’ lives, parts the artist enjoys.

On the purpose of a painting and the difficulty of fulfilling it:

It creates a new context. It is something different. It demonstrates another possibility of connection between things … When you want to create a new context, it has to be very well defined, otherwise it doesn’t work — it’s a cliché.

The idea of loss and the past became an important focus of the talk, ranging from the influence of ancient cultures to the inevitability of disappearance:

Of course ancient culture is relevant. We come from somewhere. [Our] movement isn’t just into the future, it’s into the past and into the future at the same time.

There is so much lost. All the dinosaurs are lost. A lot of things disappear all the time … With a painting, there are 95 options to go forward, I have to give up 94 of them. Each decision is losing options. It’s a struggle.

And the final question from Rosenthal, via Kant: is art a moral imperative?

I think art has nothing to do with morals. Art today can be immoral, in one hundred years it is moral.