The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Christo­pher Allen

ONE of the many ironies in the ca­reer of Joseph Beuys (1921-86) was his ap­point­ment, in 1961, as pro­fes­sor of mon­u­men­tal sculp­ture at the Academy of Dues­sel­dorf. Per­haps by then, and es­pe­cially in a Ger­many still re­cov­er­ing from the cat­a­strophic ex­pe­ri­ence of Hitler’s regime and the ex­tra­or­di­nary de­struc­tion of its cities in the war, there was not much call for large stone and bronze sculp­tures. The coun­try was di­vided into East and West and would not be reunited in Beuys’s life­time; and 1961 was the year in which that par­ti­tion reached a cri­sis with the build­ing of the Ber­lin Wall.

In this now dis­tant world of the Cold War, Beuys’s work was the op­po­site of mon­u­men­tal in the usual sense of the word. He made many elu­sive and idio­syn­cratic draw­ings, ec­cen­tric as­sem­blages and in­ex­pen­sive mul­ti­ples, a se­lec­tion of which, ac­quired for the Power Col­lec­tion by its then cu­ra­tor — and for many years my pre­de­ces­sor in this col­umn — El­wyn Lynn, are now ex­hib­ited at the Univer­sity of Sydney Art Gallery.

Many of th­ese items, in re­al­ity al­most ephemera, re­late to the per­for­mances for which Beuys was best known. In one of the most fa­mous, he sat for some hours whis­per­ing ob­ser­va­tions about his draw­ings to a dead hare cra­dled in his arms: the per­for­mance, or ac­tion, was ti­tled How to ex­plain pic­tures to a dead hare (1965). In an­other, I like Amer­ica and Amer­ica likes me (1974), he flew to New York, was taken to the Rene Block gallery in an am­bu­lance and spent part of the next three days in a room with a wild coy­ote, be­fore fly­ing back to Ger­many.

In the con­text of 20th-cen­tury art, Beuys’s work is clearly re­lated to other man­i­fes­ta­tions of dis­con­tent with the post-war art mar­ket, dom­i­nated by big and ex­pen­sive ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist paint­ings. The pre­ten­sions of

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