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Joseph Beuys: Prints & Multiples

Regarded as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century, Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was a painter, sculptor, installation artist, theorist and avid printmaker. His prints and multiples  explore the concepts that formed his philosophy of making art, grounded in humanism and anthroposophy, the 19th century philosophy that seeks to use natural means for physical and mental well-being. Acquired over many years, this single-owner collection of Beuys prints represents the artist’s work in this medium and offers an overview of Beuys’ philosophy of shamanism, philosophy and myth-creation.

Beuys studied sculpture at the State Academy of Art in Dusseldorf, at the same time pursuing academic studies in the natural sciences, botany, zoology and mythology. His studies in these areas resulted in a large body of early work focused on his fascination with the “vital forces” of life and death, organic and inorganic, and spiritual versus physical, revealing the subject matter he would pursue throughout his career. Beuys’ art is inseparable from his life-story and the environment of post-war Germany whose historical context plays a central role in post-war German art. After graduating from high school, Beuys joined the army, training as a radio operator and then as a bomber pilot. In 1943, his plane was shot down on the Russian Front where it crashed in the mountains of Crimea. Beuys survived the crash and was eventually rescued by a nomadic tribe who brought him back to health by rubbing his body with fat, his head with honey, and wrapping him in felt blankets. This life-and-death experience was the catalyst for much of Beuys’ art, highlighting themes of death and rebirth, suffering and redemption, and the cycle of the natural world. Felt, fat and honey can be seen throughout Beuys’ oeuvre, both as physical components in his sculpture and vitrines, and as imagery in works on paper, including his prints and multiples.

Beuys considered drawing to be an extension of his thoughts and used printmaking as a way to reproduce his established iconography. The imagery in many of his prints reiterates themes he pursued in drawings, with slight modifications. During the mid-1950s, Beuys suffered a spiritual crisis that lead to depression and several stays in psychiatric clinics. During this period, he secluded himself in an effort to regain his health, and spent his time reading about art, specifically focusing on Leonardo da Vinci and the science of drawing. Inspired by the discovery of two lost  da Vinci sketchbooks in the 1960s, Beuys created a series of drawings titled Codices Madrid by Leonardo da Vinci,from which he made the subsequent book of prints.  In this series, Beuys investigates the relationship between art and science that is central to his work. His intense interest in the scientific world can also be seen in his series titled Circulation Time Suite which explores time as a cyclic form of existence, interconnecting the human and natural worlds. Growth and decay, day and night, birth and death are central to the cycle of nature and represent, for Beuys, the inherent polarities that create struggle in the natural world.

Another central theme in Beuys’ art is the idea that art is, and should be, part of everyday life as a means of transformation, both spiritually for an individual, and socially for a community. For Beuys, the ultimate goal of art was to go beyond the materiality of an object in an effort to elucidate the potential in every individual. Beuys was a follower of Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy of transcendental idealism as a way of reshaping and healing the self, and of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science of Anthroposophy that attempted to replace Christianity with the concept of faith in the spiritual potential within. Both of these philosophies would help form the basis of Beuys’ artistic output and created his belief in shamanism as a way of leading people towards a higher spirituality.

Despite Beuys’ intense personal nature, the complexity of his work, and the inseparable historical context of post-war Germany, a sense of humor can be found in many of his works, including his postcards and multiples. Not long before he died in 1986, Beuys visited the island of Capri where he had often vacationed with his family. While there, he created a simple yet powerful work titled Capri Battery made of a light bulb socket connected to a fresh lemon. Beuys incorporated the work into his last vitrine and then decided to edition the work as a multiple, asking his Italian dealer, Lucio Amelio, to produce a wooden box and certificate to accompany the light bulb and lemon. With his sense of humor still present as he neared death, Beuys added the line “After 1000 hours change the battery” to the certificate. Alluding to the fact that nothing lasts forever, and that energy is transferred from the physical to the spiritual, Beuys’ Capri-Battery represents the coexisting polarities that embody Beuys’ life and his work.

Stair is pleased to offer a exclusive single owner collection of Joseph Beuys: Prints & Multiples in our sale on June 7th at 11am. Online- Only. Please note that Capri- Battery will be offered on June 8th, Lot 409A.

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