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Joseph Beuys

Americans hop on the Beuys bandwagon with MoMA exhibition as the artist's reputation takes off

The growing interest is further indicated by the Walker Art Center’s major acquisition

A touring exhibition of 200 drawings covering the career of Joseph Beuys from 1936 until his death in 1986 opens at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, towards the end of this month (21 February-4 May). Organised by Bernice Rose, the museum’s senior curator of drawings, and Ann Temkin, curator of twentieth-century art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition is the most important selection of his drawings to have been assembled since the Victoria and Albert Museum’s survey in 1983. It includes six blackboards which are usually classified among his sculptures or objects. The exhibition’s centrepiece is, in fact, “Richtkräfte”, an installation of one hundred blackboards created by the artist in 1974-77.

This show fits into a wider reassessment of Beuys currently taking place in the United States, which, ironically, follows, rather than precedes, the considerable interest already shown in the work of other German artists including Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz. In spite of Caroline Tisdall’s marvellous study of his art which was held at the Guggenheim Museum in 1979, this complex man has never been widely known nor understood by an American audience. A partial explanation for this state of affairs lies in his infrequent appearance in the salerooms, for Beuys was not a producer of easily collectible objects. It must also be relevant that his social ideas and political goals were not sympathetic to American tastes. The situation is, however, changing, and Anthony d’Offay, a leading dealer in Beuys material, reports greater interest and sales to American private collectors. As this issue went to press the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis announced its acquisition of 437 multiples by Beuys, rivalling the collections of the artist’s works in the Guggenheim Musem and Dia Center for the Arts in New York. To be called the Alfred and Marie Greisinger Collection, the works range from 1965 to 1986, making it the most comprehensive array of Beuys multiples outside Germany.

A major installation of Beuys, “Arena (where I would have got if I had been intelligent)”, created in 1970-72 (see The Art Newspaper No.16, March 1992, p.6), remains on exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts until mid-April, while the MoMA exhibition travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (30 May-15 August), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (10 October-2 January 1994) and the Art Institute of Chicago (15 February-25 April 1994). In Europe, the Milanese bank The Credito Valtellinese is showing a group of works including blackboards given by Beuys to the museum Satuki in Lodz, Poland, in its exhibition space Refettorio delle Stelline on Corso Magenta until 28 February.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Ultra-German Beuys hits MoMA'