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Joseph Beuys

May 3, 2003–September 4, 2017, Dia Beacon


Joseph Beuys was interested in questions of posterity throughout his career. He frequently organized retrospective groups of his sculptures into “blocks” for exhibition, developed an alternative curriculum vitae, his Lebenslauf/Werklauf (Life Course/Work Course, 1964–70), which interweaves fictional events with personal history, and assembled a visual archive of his actions and sculptures, Arena—Dove sarei arrivato se fossi stato intelligente! (Arena—where would I have got if I had been intelligent!, 1970–72). This collection of altered photographs functions as a visual analogue to his Life Course/Work Course, creating a subversive archive of Beuys’s art. A single found photograph of the Roman amphitheater in Verona alludes to the work’s title and suggests Beuys viewed the writing of history as a theater for debate.

Beuys believed in making Social Sculpture that could “mould and shape the world we live in,” and his “Fonds” sculptures assembled from stacked felt and copper or iron plates embody this idea. Beuys saw the Fonds as batteries—devices for receiving, storing, and sending energy; the felt symbolized protective insulation, while the conductive qualities of the metals implied transmissions. The charged nature of these works is palpable when standing next to the tall U-shaped rounds of Brasilienfond (1979). The felt absorbs the surrounding sound waves, resulting in a dull pulsating silence, which gives the impression that the sculpture is literally teeming with energy, and conveys Beuys’s belief that both an artist and a work of art can act on or influence society.


Joseph Beuys


Joseph Beuys was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1921. He died in Düsseldorf in 1986.

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Photo: Don Stahl

Joseph Beuys: Drawings After the Codices Madrid of Leonardo da Vinci

This publication studies and documents the encyclopedic series of drawings by Joseph Beuys.

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Photo: Don Stahl

Joseph Beuys: Arena—where would I have got if I had been intelligent! (Hardcover)

Comprising one hundred panels, two stacks of fat and metal plates, and an oil can, Arena—where would I have got if I had been intelligent! (1970/72), a major autobiographical work by Joseph Beuys, is documented here in this comprehensive, scholarly book for the first time in detail.

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