In our series 9x we have for a number of years assembled a small group of works by a single artist. This spring, we are pleased to present 9 "boxes" by Joseph Beuys.
This concentrated arrangement of works around the "dumb box" is designed to highlight the major role of the theme "box" in the oeuvre of Joseph Beuys.
As soon as Beuys began to create editions and multiples, he often provided them with a cardboard or wooden box to keep them in - a kind of home for the artistic idea that the particular work wanted to express. The artist also regarded the display cases that he used from a very early stage for creating a multitude of relationships between several different works, as boxes, as homes framing the complex entirety. In his large installations and performances – and one often resulted in the other – the motif of the box was often prominent, as an independent object or a frame charged with meaning.
The “box” for Beuys is always a symbolic vessel, indicative of the need to be filled, of a spiritual content and not simply a receptacle. This is perhaps made clearest in the very simple multiple of the “Intuitionskiste,” a plain wooden box, which Beuys only inscribed in pencil with the word “intuition” and his signature. A clear prompt to the viewer to become active himself, to seek spiritual filling and to see the symbol of the vessel as an indication of the need to be creative oneself in the Beuysian sense.
Beuys – for whom the spiritual heritage of Western culture (as a relict of the lost holistic nature with the Eastern spiritual world) and in particular the alchemical linking of the physical with the transcendental world were extremely important – thus refers to the concept of the “corpus quasi vas,” i.e. the material body as a vessel and home of the immaterial soul. For Beuys, this connection becomes palpable in the effects of energy, warmth, insulation – the exchange of forces is life; the transcendent becomes tangible in its experience through the senses.
Hence his personal material iconography of fat and felt, copper, zinc and sulphur – materials that generate, concentrate, guide or insulate such energy flows. In the “Dumme Kiste” of 1983, Beuys expressed this symbolism with great clarity, for the energy cannot flow through its copper plates since they are separated from one another by insulating felt strips. That is why the box is “stupid” – it does not permit the energy to circulate and thus opposes the uptake of a spiritual, immaterial content.