Australias largest public collection of the work of Joseph Beuys, one of the late 20th centurys most influential artists, has gone on show at the University of Sydneys Art Gallery
German-born Beuys (1921-1986) produced works from a range of disciplines including sculpture, performance art, installations and graphic art. Hugely influential on subsequent artists, his own greatest influences include his involvement in the German army during World War II, Rudolf Steiners work and mythology.
Joseph Beuys and the Energy Plan is a free show of works from the University of Sydneys Power Collection. His Filzanzug (Felt Suit) 1970 is the centrepiece of the exhibition and refers to Beuys memories of the war.
A volunteer for the Luftwaffe, Beuys was shot down over the Crimea in 1944 and its claimed the Tartars who rescued him wrapped him in felt, which became a common motif in his work, says exhibition guest curator and University of Sydney PhD candidate Donna West Brett.
For Beuys, wrapping himself in felt and wearing the felt suit are about healing.
Like much of Beuys work in the exhibition Felt Suit is a multiple, one of many identical pieces produced, with other examples in the permanent collections of the Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Multiples gained popularity in the late 20th century as a means of rejecting the exclusivity of art. Often Beuys multiples relate to his performance work: 1st Class Grilled Fish Bones came from a performance where Beuys fried fish.
The exhibition title refers to the artists foray across the Atlantic in 1974. Energy Plan for the Western Man was a hugely successful lecture tour which introduced Beuys to the American public.
Joseph Beuys and the Energy Plan also explores Beuys collaboration with German photographer and art critic Joseph Krüger. Krüger photographed Beuys work between 1972 and 1979, one of the few people to comprehensively document his art. Krügers friendship and association with Elwyn Lynn, former curator of the Power Collection, led to the inclusion of these photographs in the collection, as well as a substantial body of Beuys work.
Joseph Beuys and the Energy Plan is being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the Power Collection, from the visionary bequest left by the artist J W Power.