Artist Rooms - Joseph Beuys returns to Wales!

Date posted: November 30, 2011

“wilting and withering, burdensome, sad, even depressive feelings can be triggered in us.  This is particularly so in November. […] But if we look at these processes of dying […] we can set against the reality of a dying world a knowledge or sense of future, potential life.”[1]

Joseph Beuys begins here, deeming our current season somewhat of a sorry one, but as the days get colder and the nights get darker some warmth can be found within the National Museum Wales’ current Artist Rooms exhibition of Beuys’ works; an enchanting array of drawing, sculpture and performance memorabilia, that span his passions for exploring, questioning and engaging viewer’s with new and transforming ideas.

An ardent performer and character, who sought to bring energy and generate discussion, Beuys seems to have a certain aura that continues to follow display’s of his works, not least for the embellished story that follows any biography, of the artist rescued from a plane crash, taken in by a nomadic tribe, and whose life was saved by being wrapped in felt and animal fat.  Despite this (now known to be) fabricated story, the viewer is prompted to engage with two important aspects of Beuys’ work, felt and animal fat.

Beuys’ fascination with material associations is empitomized in one of his most famous works, Felt Suit, 1970, displayed on the opposite wall as the viewer enters the gallery.  It is this materiality, a thread through all of Beuys’ sculptural and sometimes drawing works, that interests me most.  Also taking centre stage are the two vitrine’s displayed; the viewer looks upon a series of distant yet familiar groupings of objects that have been left here, trapped, long after Beuys has left the room.  It is perhaps his persistent ideas about energy, about capturing energy and harnessing its transformative qualities, which bring these everyday, cold, mass-produced, utilitarian materials to resonate with the viewer, Fat Battery, 1963.

It is only in seeing this extensive display across Beuys’ many mediums that the viewer can come to realize the complex thought processes behind making, perhaps most intriguing for me are the processes that link drawing and sculpture, where one would not be possible without the other.  This interaction, and the questioning of materials is key to the exhibition, equipping the viewer with the tools for encountering Beuys’ minimalist but powerful sculpture Scala Napoletana, 1985, at the opposite end of the contemporary art galleries.


[1] Beuys, Joseph, ed. Volker Harlan, What is Art, 2004, Clarview Books, p.107

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