Joseph Beuys
* Important Sculptures From the 1950’s

October 019
written Tagen Donovan

BASTIAN Gallery curates six pivotal sculptures documenting Joseph Beuys early artistic agenda, with accompanying documentary photographs garnering a context to an artist shrouded within his own mythic foretelling. These formative works highlight how one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century came to be.


Joseph Beuys’ set-up

of the exhibition of collection Ströher at the Neue Pinakothek

Stefan Moses, photograph from Joseph Beuys’ set-up of the exhibition of collection Ströher at the Neue Pinakothek, Munich, 12 June 1968 Gelatin silver print Image courtesy BASTIAN, London ©Joseph Beuys Estate

The backdrop of the exhibition couldn’t be more fitting, BASTIAN occupies an intimate space on Mayfair's Davies Street. Whilst in conversation with the Gallery Director; Aeneas Bastian, it is learnt that the gallery founders were in-fact Aeneas parents, Celine and Heiner Bastian. Together, the duo founded and established the gallery in '89. It later transpires that Heiner Bastian would go on to work alongside Beuys from 1969 up to Beuys passing in 1986.
Heiner Bastian was a poet when he first met Beuys in ’69. It was a performance of Beuys titled “I am trying to set you free” in-which Heiners curiosity of the artist was first ignited. The performance was cut short when a hoard of left-wing revolutionary students took-over the stage in distaste for the piece, destroying a piano, turning it on its side and breaking it limb from limb. With a stage in complete disarray and a short lived performative piece in smithereens, the audience soon trickled out, leaving behind a handful of loyal onlookers, Heiner being one of them. It was of the same night, Beuys invited Heiner to Dusseldorf where Beuys was teaching at the time, the pair reunited and the rest became history. It was from this point onwards that Beuys and Heiner would develop a long and meaningful friendship. Heiner also worked alongside Beuys in a professional capacity, assisting Beuys first-hand with artistic preparations and a general overseeing of exhibitions. The pair shared a combined vision of what art should be, and spent their working relationship discussing German philosophy and literature.

Retrospectively, in the context of observing Beuys early sculptures from the 1950’s, it is important to analyse the foundation of his career. Beuys was a Fluxus, happenings and performance artist, as-well-as forging a fluency within mediums such as; painting, sculpting, installation and graphics. With a focus concerning the realm of social philosophy, anthropology and environmentally charged concepts. Ultimately, Beuys career has been characterised by his open debates, a forum in-which he shone a light on issues such as; political, social and environmental trends, with an end goal of looking towards the future, whilst manoeuvring through the present.

Installation view of ‘Joseph Beuys: Important Sculptures from the 1950s’ at BASTIAN, London Image courtesy BASTIAN, London ©Joseph Beuys Estate Photo by Luke Walker

Fundamentally, an important chapter in Beuys career is the “Beuy-sian Myth.” In a brief recount, Beuys, whom at the time, narrowly survived a plane crash over Crimea in 1944.

Beuys later maintained that a group of nomadic Tartars discovered him, nursing him back to health through the efforts of wrapping his body in felt and fat to keep him warm. This part of Beuys narrative is integral to his extensive oeuvre, the story itself has provided a vivacious pulse for many of his works. It is noted that Beuys found more truth in myth than truth itself, and this ideology speaks at length throughout his professional and philosophical practices. Latterly, it would be Beuys return to Kleve that orchestrated his introduction into sculpture. Upon meeting Walter Brux, a sculptor and Hanns Lamers, a painter, both of whom encouraged Beuys to take up art as a full-time career. With new horizons in full momentum, Beuys joined the Kleve Artists Association (established by Brux and Lamers.) Moving swiftly into 1946, Beuys enrolled into the Monumental Sculpture program at Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, with specific studies relating to traditionally representative methods.

Changing his mentor after three consecutive semesters, Beuys joined the small class of Edwald Matare (Sculptor). It was at the turn of 1951 when Matare accepted Beuys into his masterclass course, in-which he shared a studio with German artist, Erwin Heerich. It was noted at the time, that Beuys drove an influence during his participation in Matares class, one that was recalled by Nobel Laureate, Gunter Grass as; “A Christian anthroposophical atmosphere...” Graduating in 1953 with a Masters, Beuys survived from the fruits of a modest income, mainly furniture and gravestone commissions provided him with a means to pay his way. Through the formulation of Beuys distinct voice within the art world, he began to experiment further with unconventional materials, mainly as he couldn’t afford tools of a typical artist. Through this experimentation of materials, Beuys developed his visual language and aligned his philosophical views in-tune to this developmental stage, ultimately leading to his exploration of metaphorical and symbolic connections between natural phenomena and philosophical structures.

Stefan Moses, photograph from Joseph Beuys ’ set-up of the exhibition of collection Ströher at the Neue Pinakothek, Munich 12 June 1968 Gelatin silver print  Image courtesy BASTIAN, London ©Joseph Beuys Estate

Stefan Moses, photograph from Joseph Beuys’ set-up of the exhibition of collection Ströher at the Neue Pinakothek, Munich
12 June 1968 Gelatin silver print
Image courtesy BASTIAN, London
©Joseph Beuys Estate

The unfurling chapters of Beuys life cemented his ideas and vision, ultimately bringing into fruition some of his most pivotal works such as, Hammer for the Hard of Hearing (1959-60) a piece that showcases a dried cod with hand finished red crosses constructed from paper, accompanied by a hammer made from wood and glass. Though subjective in concept, the idea that Beuys may have been communicating a playful sense of morality is probable, due to the nature of his illustrious debate topics and performative pieces that revolved around the notions of societal, political and ethical structures. Also on display at BASTIAN Gallery is, The Couple (1952-1953) remarkably conceived just after Beuys had graduated from the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts. Upon conversation with Gallery Director, Aeneas Bastian, it is of his own personal interpretation that the symbolism of this piece in particular, illustrates a man and woman laying peacefully side-by-side upon a stone foundation encased within a glass vitrine. Through further inspection of the sculpture, Aeneas remarks on the evident slit on the females throat, a possible representation of sleep and death intertwining with one another, a concept that is outlined in Homers Odyssey.

BASTIAN Gallery, London:
Joseph Beuys - Important Sculptures From the 1950’s
is on show from September 20, 2019 through November 16, 2019
*The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive publication detailing each works on show, the publication is available in English and German

Installation view Photos Luke Walker
Image courtesy BASTIAN, London
© Joseph Beuys Estate