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Exhibition at ZKM presents the three most important German Action artists of postwar modernity
Joseph Beuys, Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz at the documenta 6, Museum Fridericianum, 1977. Color photograph. Photo: Georg Freitag © documenta Archiv © Estate of Joseph Beuys / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014.

KARLSRUHE.- Joseph Beuys, Bazon Brock and Wolf Vostell, the three most important German Action artists of postwar modernity, will be presented for the first time together in a large-scale group exhbition. The artists, all of whom were friends and who appeared together at important actions and exhibitions throughout the 1960s, evolved their own unique style-defining approaches, thereby pursuing the radical emancipation of the individual and the reform or revolution of life. A new perspective on performative arts is evolved by way of the joint presentations of these three different approaches to performativity, today courted in all museums of the world.

The acquisition of Wolf Vostell’s work Transmigración II (1958) will also be presented at the exhibition – an acquisition made possible for the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe thanks to the generous support of the Kulturstiftung der Länder. Transmigración II is one of the first works of art which used a television as an integral part of a work, and hence became a model for numerous generations of artists in the artistic treat- ment of mass media. Hence, the acquisition represents a further historical milestone of media art for the collection of this inter- nationally famous institution.

To date, art history has only separately treated the work Joseph Beuys, Bazon Brock and Wolf Vostell without reference to the respective national and international contexts. Not only were important individual aspects and achievements of each of the artist’s personalities consequently overlooked: due to the lack of a contextual overview the importance of these three artists for the performative turn has also been lost. The artists, all of whom were fiends, made joint appearances at important events during the 196os, such as the Festival der Neuen Kunst am 20. Juli 1964 in Aachen, the Life Sendung of the Second German Television Channel for the series Die Drehscheibe (1964) and the so-called 24 Stunden Happening at Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal (1965). Through their collaborative work has been researched and comprehensively exhibited for the first time, new perspectives are opened up both on the artistic output of these three artists and the art of the post- war period.

The exhibition shows that, each in their own way, the three action artists created influential and formative stylistic approaches to performativity, and contributed to the formation of an augmented concept of the work – such as sculpture as action and the inclusion of the public. It becomes apparent, furthermore, that all three artists share a common thematic focal point in their critical assessment and treatment of the Second World War and its ramifications. A further aspect shared by Joseph Beuys, Bazon Brock and Wolf Vostell that becomes understandable in the exhibition, is the new definition of teaching. The three artists conceived of teaching as the art of performance the core of which was mediation and enlightenment, action and agitating as well as discourse and demonstration. Initiated by actions, images and discourse, a trans- formation of viewer consciousness is then achieved which leads to the radical emancipation of the individual. Accordingly, civil society and democracy constitute the core of Beuys’, Brock’s and Vostell’s actions and demonstrations. Whereas artists of the 1950s attributed greater significance to the past, especially to the Holocaust, their common concerns during the 1960s were the conception of social utopias – even though their various approaches towards this mutual goal took very different forms.

With the exhibition Beuys Brock Vostell, the ZKM | Karlsruhe deepens its focus on performativity and participation. Following the presentation of works by the pioneers of performance art in the exhibition Moments (2012), and the critical examination of the augmented concept of the work, as in the exhibition Franz Erhard Walther. Space by Action (2012), three key German artists of postwar modernity Joseph Beuys, Bazon Brock and Wolf Vostell are now set to be presented for the first time in a large-scale show in 2014. These artists had already recognized the new tendencies of leading art out of the studio and into public space, and implemented these in artistic practices as early as the 1950s.

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