Friday 13 October 2017

Joseph Beuys at Hamburger Bahnhof/Museum fur Gegenwart, Berlin

Joseph Beuys at Hamburger Bahnhof/Museum fur Gegenwart, Berlin

Beuys was a German Fluxus, happening and performance artist as well as a sculptor, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist and pedagogue. His work is grounded in concepts of humanism and social philosophy; it culminates in his 'extended definition of art' and the idea of social sculpture as a gesamthkunstwerk, for which he claimed a creative, participatory role in shaping society and politics. He was confident in the potential for art to bring about revolutionary change.

I found this exhibition extremely helpful in helping me understand his work.

Das Kapital Raum, 1970-1977 (1980)

'This is the monument now. That's right, the monument as we know it, rigid, constructed. There are the individual signs, something's written on it like on the pyramids, there are hieroglyphs, they must be deciphered'. J. Beuys, 1980

Beuys was interested in creating his own new concept of capital which he developed in relation to Karl Marx. He explained how he was no longer using the term to refer to economic ownership but rather to intellectual and creative property. Beuys therefore equates art, as an exemplary expression of creative power (art - creativity), with capital (art= capital). The 36 blackboards on the rear wall bear witness to this discursive process, which took place in Kassel over the 100 days of Documenta 6 in 1977.

Beuys works on two levels, combining his rational work in the conceptual definition of terms with the more spiritual level evoked by the mysterious concepts of Celtic Christianity. In the opening sequence of his performance at Basel Beuys highlighted the Christian reference by washing the feet of seven visitors. The piano is not played but creates anticipation for the possibility of music, a sound of the future.  He also conveys this 'empty' state through the film equipment and tape recorders he put on display without rolls of film or tapes. Beuys called it a monument in which the movements are, so to speak, frozen and waiting for the viewer to revive them.

Strassenbahnhaltestelle. A Monument to the Future, 1976

looking closer


from a different angle


Tallow, 1977

The aim of this installation was to question the underlying motives behind urban planning which produce concrete deserts, and the restricted understanding of art which condones this.

In the concrete underpass to a new auditorium of the university of Muenster, under the access ramp was a dead corner, a deep wedge-shaped acute angle in which nothing but dirt could collect. He took an exact cast of this spot and in the process a negative vacuum was transformed into a positive form - a sculpture. 20 tonnes of mutton fat granules, mixed with a few drums of beef fat for extra firmness were melted down over fire day and night at a concrete factory outside Muenster.  Vat after vat was poured into the reinforced plywood mould which was buttressed with beams.

After a month and a half the sculpture was still completely fluid at the centre; at the end of three months it was cool. Beuys said: 'This is the first sculpture that will never get cold, and if it gets cold it will never get warm again'.


looking closer

Richtkraefte einer neuen Gesellschaft, (Directional Forces of a New Society), 1974-77

The 100 blackboards came out of a month of discussions during the Art into Society - Society into Art exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in November 1974. This installation can be seen as an action, for lectures in Ireland where The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland was on show in Belfast. The drawings document encounters with people, theories of sculpture, creativity and society, together with traces of the events of that month both in Beuys' own life and the world outside.  That November, for instance, Holger Meins, a member of the Baader-Meinhof group, died on hunger strike in a German prison, and the board which is an epitaph to his plight caused consternation when the work was eventually installed in the Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

Throughout the discussions Beuys carried an upturned walking stick (Eurasian staff) painted brown, and by the end of the month contact with his hand had worn what turned out to be a 'hare in the moon' on its tip. When Directional Forces appeared in its next stage as an environment at The Rene Block Gallery in New York in April 1975, this hare had been photographically enlarged and placed in a box lit from behind. The element of mystery must never be completely lacking.  In New York the boards could be studied and walked over by the public; but by then the action stage was over. Unused boards were piled into a 'Fond' or battery, with an east-west line drawn on them; and three easels represented the key democratic questions:

Cultural life - (Freedom) Law - (Equality) Economics - (Fraternity)

looking closer

When Directional Forces appeared at the Venice Biennale in July 1976, it had been pulled another step back from the spectator; it could only be viewed through glass. In the Nationalgalerie in Berlin it is scattered over a raised platform which is the closest Beuys has ever come to a sculptural pedestal.

Filzanzug, 1970

Capri-Batterie, 1985

looking closer.

1 comment:

  1. Hello. I painted a portrait of Joseph Beuys . how can I show that to you? thanks