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Joseph Beuys's 'Boxing Match for Direct Democracy' acquired by the Museum für Moderne Kunst
Joseph Beuys, Boxkampf für direkte Demokratie, 1972 © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

FRANKFURT.- The Museum für Moderne Kunst announced the acquisition of the work Boxing Match for Direct Democracy (1972) by Joseph Beuys for the museum collection, and thus a further enhancement to the group of works by the artist already in the MMK holdings.

On the occasion of the documenta 5 taking place in Kassel in 1972 under the artistic direction of Harald Szeemann (with assistance from Jean-Christophe Ammann), a boxing match was staged at the Museum Fridericianum on the last day of the exhibition. The contenders in this closing documenta action were Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) and Abraham David Christian (b. 1952), a young art student of Kassel. In 1972, Beuys – who had figured prominently in all documenta exhibitions from 1964 onward –, had moved his Düsseldorf information office of the Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum to Kassel for 100 days. He was in attendance at the office throughout this period, untiringly discussing the party system and the issue of direct democracy by referendum with the exhibition visitors. In this context he stated: “To engage in discussion is also an art form”, and in general he referred to “language as the first form of sculpture”. To Beuys, who always conceived of the museum as a venue for the ongoing exchange of views, the Office for Direct Democracy was his artistic contribution and the realization of his expanded concept of art as “social sculpture”.

The sculptor Abraham David Christian, likewise a native of Düsseldorf, had already challenged Beuys to a boxing match during a heated argument early on in the documenta 5. The match finally took place in the so-called Thinking Room by concept and nouveau realiste artist Ben Vautier at 3.00 pm on 8 October 1972. A classical boxing ring had been set up on a low platform at the centre of the room. The two opponents fought bare-chested, wearing boxing gloves. Christian also wore a leather head guard and a gumshield; Beuys remained unprotected except for the mitts. Before a large and enthusiastic crowd of spectators, he ultimately won the three-round match by scoring the most points.

The sculpture that came out of this action – Boxing Match for Direct Democracy – consists of a display case made of zinc sheet, measuring just 40 cm in height at a width of 515 cm and holding the relics of the boxing match. It set precedents for the documenta works of Joseph Beuys, who like no other artist contributed to shaping this major art exhibition until 1986. The socio-political approach he adopted in the early 1970s can be regarded as a yardstick for all subsequent documenta exhibitions up to the very present.

In 1978, Beuys remarked as follows on the boxing match: “I’m a fighter in general. Of course, in an age like the one we live in, in which man is geared for true freedom, this fight has to be different from ever before in history. It has to be shifted entirely inward; it has to be a fight of ideas, of the mind. Every other fight is a senseless fight. If I fight a boxing match, for example, like at the documenta 1972, then it’s a boxing match for direct democracy. In other words: a fight situation is played out for a few spectators. But symbolically, it expresses nothing other than this fight for a humane future.” (Joseph Beuys in conversation with Gerd Courts, Kölner Stadtanzeiger, 1978)

The MMK's Beuys holdings comprise the late work Lightning with Stag in Its Glare (1958–1985) as well as extensive series of photographs by Abisag Tüllman on the Iphigenie/Titus Andronicus action (1969) carried out by Beuys in Frankfurt, and by Hildegard Weber on the Stag Monuments (1986). Walter Cuntze's ten-minute film documentary Boxing Match for Direct Democracy by Referendum (1972), the Beuys print Democracy is Funny (1973) and the Rose for Direct Democracy (1973) are likewise in the museum collection.

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