Joseph Beuys (Krefeld, Germany, 1921 - Düsseldorf, West Germany, 1986) embodied the extended concept of art that he himself coined, practised and promoted. In his opinion, artists shouldn’t limit themselves to producing marketable objects but should become social activists, as the modification of consciences was a sculptural project per se. Through his actions, his productions and even his lectures, Beuys sought the “total work of art”, healing himself and constructing himself as a work of art in the process. Indebted to German Romanticism, Nietzschean Vitalism and the Spiritualism of Catholic origin, Beuys believed in the transforming power of art and in the rebirth of human beings. As early as his 1977 installation Show Your Wound, Beuys proposed exhibiting trauma as the first step on the path to healing. In 1983 he produced the installation entitled Hinter dem Knochen wird gezählt – Schmerzaum at the Konrad Fischer gallery in Düsseldorf in which he covered the walls and ceiling with huge sheets of lead that created a dark oppressive atmosphere. Two silver rings and a minimal light bulb hung from the ceiling. A single door led into the exhibition from the street. The installation remained open from 11 December 1983 to 15 January 1984; since then it has only been reinstalled in its present location in Barcelona’s CaixaForum. According to Harald Szeemann, Beuys was fully aware of the composition, the history, the energy, the qualities and the effects of each of the materials he used. Lead is heavy and absorbs radiations and light. Silver, on the contrary, is light, reflective and a fine conductor of energy. Like an alchemist, Beuys used lead to create a hermetic room, a space of inner reduction, of isolation and lack of communication. The two silver rings, one the size of a child’s head and the other that of an adult’s, allude to two stages in life development and to the flow of existence in the isolation of the earthly field of lead, and are tenuously illuminated by the light of reason (the light bulb). Beuys understood suffering as a process of purification and, as his pupil and collaborator Johannes Stüttgen recalls, the German artist spoke of the “pain of knowledge” as being inseparable from the existential process of the conquest of freedom.
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