Image: Joseph Beuys at Thaddaeus Ropac
Joseph Beuys, Untitled, 1980. Rubbing with oily, black pigment on leaf (probably Stephania venosa), overworked with white ink, ear of wheat and pencil on paper, 39,5 x 33 cm. Photo: Eva Herzog © Estate of Joseph Beuys / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2022
Featured in London Review of Books

Joseph Beuys at Thaddaeus Ropac Review by John-Paul Stonard

16 March 2023
Ely House, London
Read an excerpt:
Drawing was never just drawing: Beuys was already thinking, it seems, in terms of an expanded notion of what art might be; a drawing might show nature, but also itself appear as a fragment of the natural world. To contribute to art, Beuys held, you had to go beyond art. Consider the desiccated leaf of Corylus Avellena (hazel) on which, sometime around 1950, he made a tiny drawing of a bear, the wrinkled veins and serrated margin forming a landscape, as if by synecdoche. Meerengel die Seegurke is a sepia slither isolated on a white sheet, which seems less an attempt to capture the appearance of sea cucumber than to evoke its presence. (...)
There is an elegance to these early drawings, but also something strange, as if Beuys was creating his own conventions of form and line. They can appear archaic – the work of an eccentric 18th-century zoologist, steeped in a tradition of magical thinking about animals; one that is unashamedly anthropocentric. During the 1960s, Beuys formed a political party for animals, nominating himself supreme leader. For his 1964 performance piece The Chief – Fluxus Chant, he spent nine hours wrapped in a roll of felt, communing with two dead hares: a preparation of sorts for covering his head in honey and gold leaf the following year in How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, a performance at a private art gallery in Düsseldorf, in which he was surrounded by his drawings, many of animals. The instinct and energy of animals could be harnessed for consciousness-raising performances, but the beneficiaries were always humans. (...)
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