Joseph Beuys: Appeal for an Alternative
State Museum of Modern Art of the Russian Academy of Arts, 10 Gogolevsky Boulevard
September 12 — November 14
The “Appeal for an Alternative” exhibition by Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) is one of the key events of the Year of Germany in Russia 2012/13. It is the first full-scale exhibition by this influential twentieth-century German artist in Russia. The exhibition is curated by Eugen Blume, a major Joseph Beuys specialist, Head of the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof − Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, which has a significant collection of the artist’s works. The exhibition is realized by the Museum and Goethe Institute Moskau in close cooperation with the Nationagalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. It will feature works from the Marx Collection, which constitutes a large part of the Hamburger Bahnhof’s museum display, the Collection Schlegel (Berlin), the collection of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. (Insitute for Foreign Cultural Relations), Stuttgart, the collection of Stiflung Museum Schloss Moyland des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen (the van der Grinten collection, Joseph Beuys Archive), and the Joseph Beuys Media Archive.
The exhibition curator believes that the art of Joseph Beuys is a persistent and all-encompassing appeal for an alternative. The exhibition aims to show Beuys’ universal worldview through his seminal works. The title — Appeal for an Alternative — alludes to the socio-political manifesto by Beuys published in 1978 in Frankfurter Rundschau.
Beuys first started talking about the alternative in the 1950s, when he initiated the “Western Man Project” — an experimental model of reality driven by the revolutionary power of art. In the “Western Man Project” Beuys also made conclusions about destructive tendencies in Germany during World War II, in which he took part as a soldier.
For Joseph Beuys an important prerequisite for the emergence of a true alternative was the expanded concept of art: the creative process expands to merge will all spheres of life, and eventually art and life become one. Beuys defined his art as anthropological, and declared that every person is an artist. Gifted with an inherent creative potential, people can build new social systems and transform the world through art practice, i.e. to become creators of the social sculpture. Specific forms of the new society are defined at a permanent conference with the participation of every member of society. In this sense, Beuys believed in direct democracy through plebiscite. The expanded concept of art has had great influence on the artist’s political activity. In 1979, Joseph Beuys became a founding member of the German Green Party — the first environmental party in Europe. Beuys headed the list for the Green Party in the Bundestag elections in 1980.
The first comprehensive Joseph Beuys exhibition in Moscow will feature installations, including seminal Beuys’ works “The End of the Twentieth Century” and “Tramstop”, multiples, graphic works, and video documentations of performances by the artist. Presented at the Venice biennale in 1976, the autobiographic “Tramstop” (1989) expresses Joseph Beuys’ vision of the future is crucial for the entire history of contemporary art. The End of the Twentieth Century installation, a seemingly haphazard arrangement of giant elongated basalt stones, is an allusion to World War II, and a reference to the 7000 oaks originally created for dOCUMENTA (7) in 1982 — an example of social sculpture, when heavy basalt stones could only be moved when an oak tree was planted. As a result, 7000 trees were planted in Kassel. Double Fond, an early Beuys’ work with Christian overtones, embodies social utopia: Joseph Beuys criticized the private property based capitalism of the West, and the state capitalism of the East, considering both social forms to be inhumane.
Joseph Beuys’ multiples are another important form of his creative thinking. They served to proliferate his ideas way beyond museums and galleries, to reach out to a wide audience. Considering multiples to be important transmitters of his ideas, Beuys produced them throughout his life. Executed in various forms — from a leaflet to an object — multiples constitute an artistic and political biography of the artist.
The exhibition will also present video documentation of major performances by Joseph Beuys: among them “I Like America, and America Likes Me”, during which the artist caged himself with a live coyote for a week, “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare”, as well as videos of public lectures by the artist.
Drawings by Joseph Beuys are another important element of the exhibition. In his expanded concept of art Beuys viewed drawings as artistic mind maps which activate the materialization of thought.
The “Appeal for an Alternative” exhibition is conceived as a retrospective of Joseph Beuys’ ideas, it is meant to test how relevant the suggested alternatives are for today and tomorrow.