Tate Modern

by Bo Xu

@ Tate Modern

05.12.2014

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Joseph Beuys

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Table with Accumulator 1958-85

 

Wood, accumulator, clay and wire

In this work, an accumulator, a kind of rechargeable battery in which energy can be stored, it's attached by wires to two pieces of clay, as if drawing power from the earth itself.
For Beuys, the production and storage of energy was a metaphor for the creative and spiritual energy that he wanted to foster both in the individual viewer and in society as whole. This was one of the work that Beuys included in the 1982 Zeitgeist exhibition, accompanying the various elements of Lighting with Stag in its Glare.

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Untitled 1970

 

Photograph on canvas

Beuys was highly influential in shifting the emphasis from what an artist makes to his personality, activities and opinions. His charismatic presence was integral to his work and he communicated his expanded concept of art through performance, public discussion and political campaigning. His clothes became an instantly recognisable uniform - jeans, white shirt, a fishing vest, fur-lined coat and a trilby hat. This photograph shows this artist with some of the sledges from his 1969 sculpture the pack.

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Campaign Bed 1982

Field bed, electrical accumulator (copper, iron, wood), felt blanket

One if the most important stories associated with Beuys concerned his plane crash in the Crimea during the Second World War. According to the myth, he was rescued by a band of Tatars who coated his body with fat and wrapped him in felt to keeo him alive. The felt blanket became one of Beuys's signature materials. The campaign bed in this work -  deisgned to be portable and easily assembled -  carries association with the body but also ideas of survival under emergency condition, while the electrical accumulator suggests the preservation of physical and creative energy.

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Lighting with Stag in its Glare 1958 - 85

 

In the massive installation Lighting with Stag in its Glare, the suspended, bronze triangle embodies the energy of a powerful flash of lighting, which illuminates a group of half-formed creatures. The 'stag' of the title was originally made from an ironing board and then cast in bright aluminium to suggest the glare of the lighting. The cart represents a goat, and the clods of bronze on the floor are primordial creatures. A small compass, mounted on top of a box, is another reference, with the lighting flash itself, to the natural energies of the earth.

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Monument to the Stag 1958-85

 

Wood, iron and copper

Since childhood, Beuys had been interested in northern European folklore, in which certain animals are endowed with mystical power. The stag had particular significance for him as the mythical guardian of the forest. The yearly shedding and regrowth of its antlers were a potent symbol of rebirth and renewal. Int his work Beuys brings together iron - whose cold strength and durability he associated with masculinity and war -  with copper, one of the softest metals, which he associates with femininity.

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