Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Monday, 8 April 2013

+ - - Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys, + -, 1962, oil on card, two parts, (left) 309 x 228 mm (right) 310 x 228 mm, Tate.










Beuys is one of those artists who requires a period of deep immersion in their work, due to his allocating materials and objects with symbolic meaning arising from the personal mythology he awarded himself (Beuys is probably the only artist with a superhero-type origin story).  I've never given him that much of my time, essentially because to do so has always felt like deciphering the teachings of a New Age cult leader for comfort.  He's probably all right, though.  I mean, no one died.
  Some of Beuy's most impossible work was in performance, and at first these appear to be be instructions for an action.  Jump over a beanbag, and then... um.   Anyway, the Tate website artwork decipherer sees the plus and minus here refering to male and female energy, which is reasonable, but it got me thinking of Nietzche's (and others) idea of Apollonian and Dionysian creativity.  The figure on the left is Apollonian - it is graceful, ordered, in a state of balance.  The mass on the right is Dionysian - chaotic, convulsive, creation arising out of destruction.  The two opposites ideally exist in a state of equilibrium.  If the former gets out of hand, you end up with bad tower blocks, or the Third Reich, or the Paul McCartney album London Town.  If the latter, Yeltsin's Russia, that new Hendrix outtakes thing, or a performance poet just going 'NEEAARRRGHHH!' into a microphone.
   Aesthetically, at first this looks quite scrappy, but if you live with it a bit the brushwork reveals a surprising gracefulness.  The work itself achieves an Apollonian/Dionysian balance.

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