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Joseph Beuys

Beuys breathes life into Cologne’s museum relics and inspires an exhibition in Vienna

Crucifixes and razorblades show the breadth of Beuys' production

Joseph Beuys, the most widely venerated artist in post-World War II Germany, is the subject of an exhibition “Beuys and the Middle Ages” in Cologne’s Schnütgen Museum until 27 April. The twelfth-century church is enlivened by a small number of Beuys’s hermetically symbolic objects and installations, as well as his early, more conventional drawings and sculptures which remind the viewer that he was trained by the sculptor Ewald Mataré and worked with him on the south portal doors of Cologne cathedral. Beuys had a highly personal interpretation of Christianity and his lectures on how art should be lived often evoked its mystical tradition. This exhibition makes the most of these allusions with the placing of the works: the 1960 “Halved felt cross with a dust picture of ‘Magda’” on the axis of the east choir and an enamelled bowl alludes to the Washing of the Feet at the Last Supper.

The close relationship between Beuys and the Cologne physician Dr Reiner Speck led to the creation of a collection spanning the past fifty years. While the artist was recovering from a heart attack in 1975, Dr Speck gave him the novel The journey of the young Anacharsis through Greece by Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1788). Beuys added his ECG, a razor blade and two bay leaves to the book, transforming it into the piece “Otherwise we’ll live without heart,” which gives its name to an exhibition of Speck’s collection at the Kunsthalle, Vienna (until 11 May). The catalogue, published by Cantz Verlag, costs DM58.