|Panoramic view of Room 8 in the Tate Modern, London|
Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) came to prominence in the 60s with a heavily politicized aesthetic. Beuys used his aesthetic powers to “speak his audience’s concerns...” as well as to communicate his own philosophies and political values.
One of Beuys’ key critics, Caroline Tindall explains that; “moulding processes of art are taken as a metaphor for the moulding of society”. This view adds weight to Beuys’ notion that “Everyone is an artist” - this is both a terrific and terrifying idea. However at least not everyone is an art student, although this would be intriguing (probably not to Michael Gove though).
Beuys' signature materials were fat and felt; they were almost an inherent aspect of all social sculpture that made Beuys’ work instantly identifiable. The materials ruminate with meaning and allegory and suggest how; “One is forced to translate thought into action and action into object” (Beuys) in whichever material is at hand, embracing the true spirit of the Bauhaus ethos.
Participating in the Fluxus movement from 1962, a clear part of Beuys' work is the sense of action or Aktion as he referred to his performance works. In 1974 Beuys spent several days in a gallery with a live coyote, thankfully for visitors of the Tate, they are lacking in a wild coyote today. None the less Beuys realized “the part an artist can play in indicating the traumas of a time” as well establishing art as a mode to vent and repair society.
In Table with Accumulator, 1958-85, Beuys represents the accumulator as a metaphor for how art can store spiritual meaning. Further to this the social sculpture is metaphorically fuelled by societies’ footsteps that meander the floors of the gallery that are in contact with the pieces of clay attached with wire to the accumulator.
Joseph Beuys, (1958-1985) Table with Accumulator, [Wood, accumulator, clay and wire], dimensions variable, Tate Modern, London.
At over two metres square Untitled, 1970 is a self-indulgent piece that absorbs Beuys' iconography and ideology to preserve his identity for prosperity. Today it appears Beuys’ is alive and kicking posthumously, however the Tate’s Felt Suit, 1970 hasn’t fared so well, after almost being mullered by moths.
Joseph Beuys, (1970) Untitled, [Photograph, gelatine silver print on canvas], 233 x 227.5 cm, Tate Modern, London.
Moving on, Monument to the stag, 1958-1985 highlights how Beuys established “animals as the embodiment of a lost state of innocence”. The juxtaposition of the malleable copper against the dexterity and strength of the iron suggests the transience of the materials varies with the degrees of innocence of different objects and beings.
Joseph Beuys, (1958-1985) Monument to the stag [Wood, iron and copper], 92.5 x 128 x 257.5 cm, Tate Modern, London.
It was in 2005 that the Tate held the exhibition Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments and today you can see a whole room (which the Tate doesn’t charge you to go in!) of Beuys’ work that is truly as intriguing and iconic as the man himself.