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National Museum Cardiff focuses on German artist Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys, Felt Suit, 1970.

CARDIFF.- Joseph Beuys, one of the most influential figures in twentieth century art - is well known for the three days he spent in New York, sharing a room with a wild coyote in his ‘action’ I like America and America Likes Me 1974. Photographs of this event were even exhibited at the Wrexham Eisteddfod in 1977. This surprising connection between Beuys and Wales may well be linked to the artist’s longstanding interest in the survival of the Celtic spirit in Europe. This, together with Beuys’ central contribution to the development of postwar European art will be the focus of a new exhibition on display at National Museum Cardiff from 22 October. Beuys’ interest in the Celtic, and its particular relevance to audiences in Wales, is also explored in accompanying events and schools programme.

The works on display are taken from ARTIST ROOMS, a new collection of modern and contemporary art held by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland for the nation.

ARTIST ROOMS is owned jointly by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland and was established through The d’Offay Donation in 2008, with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Scottish and British Governments. The tour is made possible thanks to the support of the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for works of art that helps museums buy, show and share art throughout the UK. ARTIST ROOMS On Tour with the Art Fund has been devised to enable this collection to reach and inspire new audiences across the country, particularly young people.

This exhibition presents Beuys’s work across two gallery spaces at the National Museum Cardiff. In one space we see major examples of Beuys’s sculptures, Braunkreuz drawings, and posters recording ‘actions’ and exhibitions. The other gallery is dominated by the monumental sculptural installation Scala Napoletana 1985 which was made only a few months before the artist's death, and relates to the theme of communication with the beyond.

Joseph Beuys’ charismatic presence as an artist-shaman gained him international fame and notoriety and his influence is still felt today. Adopting the roles of political and social activist and educator, his philosophy proposed the healing power of art. The complex, interlocking themes explored in his work relate to science, myth, history, medicine and energy, while Beuys’ own image and life story is inextricably linked to his practice Beuys produced a vast body of work that includes performance, drawing, print-making, sculpture and installation, many of which are included or referenced in this exhibition.

Nicholas Thornton, Head of Contemporary Art, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, said, “We are delighted to be hosting Joseph Beuys at National Museum Cardiff and it’s fantastic that our visitors can see this fascinating exhibition for free. The exhibition, which is installed in two gallery spaces in the National Museum of Art’s newly opened galleries for modern and contemporary art, makes powerful connections with adjacent displays from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ own outstanding collection of post-1950 art.

“Visitors to the new contemporary galleries can also see many works by Welsh artists exploring their own cultural identity since the 1960s, including Paul Davies - who has been described as “a Beuysian inspirational figure for political art in Wales” and who made a political protest of his own at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham in 1977.”

As a teenager, Professor André Stitt from UWIC’s Cardiff School of Art and Design saw Joseph Beuys interacting with the public on the streets of Belfast. This formative experience had a profound effect on the young would-be artist.

He says, "The best performances seem to occur when the subjects or images are wrenched out of context using unexpected or unfamiliar methods. They challenge the spectator’s preconceptions.

“To me Beuys was like that. He was trickster, shaman, charlatan, irreverent entertainer, sober and serious thinker, half cocked spiritual advisor, and mythmaker. I guess that’s what I intuitively identified with when I first saw him in Smithfield market Belfast when I was a teenager. I clocked his number alright. That collision of humour and seriousness. Beuys signing bananas as the old woman on the fruit stall was telling him to “Get lost!” Beuys would sign anything in fact. How could one not be inspired by a mad German artist in a big fur coat signing bananas in the middle of war torn Belfast during the troubles? Things like that can change your life."

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