Art = Capital
Joseph Beuys, his students and the Deutsche Bank Collection
"Beuys and Beyond – Teaching as Art" is the third exhibition of works from the Deutsche Bank Collection to tour through major Latin American museums. The show features works by Joseph Beuys and his students in dialogue with contemporary Latin American art. Friedhelm Hütte, Global Head of Art, Deutsche Bank, on Beuys’s immense importance for the corporate collection and on Deutsche Bank’s commitment to art.
||For many people interested in art, Joseph Beuys is the ultimate personification of the artist and teacher. He was both a visionary and a mentor. His influence extended far beyond the sphere of art: the "expanded concept of art" includes a transformation of the whole society. With his famous sentence: "Every human being is an artist," Beuys meant that everyone has creative potential which must be supported, and declared: "The greater a person's creativity is, the greater the national income is, the greater the ability is to do things so that they become as productive and effective as possible for everyone." This innovative potential of art and creativity is also a central aspect of Deutsche Bank's commitment to art. Promoting young, contemporary artists has been an important part of our corporate culture for some three decades. The focus of our activities is the Deutsche Bank Collection.
One main objective is to make the artworks in the collection accessible to as broad a public as possible, in Germany and worldwide – also in the Latin American countries: 2003/04 presented the traveling exhibition The Return of the Giants with figurative German painting from the Deutsche Bank Collection. In 2006/07, the show More than Meets the Eye showed a panorama of German photo art. With Beuys and Beyond – Teaching as Art, Deutsche Bank is now continuing its collaborative work with its Latin American partner institutions – and is simultaneously intensifying it. Because the exhibition is a novelty in two respects. Not only because Beuys will be shown in direct dialog with his students Lothar Baumgarten, Jörg Immendorf, Imi Knoebel, Blinky Palermo, Katharina Sieverding und Norbert Tadeusz for the first time since his death. The principle of this juxtaposition will also be extended to the various art scenes in Latin America. At each of the show's stops, the works of local teachers and their students will be contrasted with those of Beuys and his students. The exhibition thus exemplifies a subject that has been of tremendous importance to Deutsche Bank for a long time – the role of the artist as teacher and mentor as well as the mediation of art.
And who would be a more iconographic figure for something like this than Joseph Beuys? In 1961, when he begins his professorship at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, it is not yet possible to foresee that Beuys who at the time is 40 will become an almost messianic art figure. But unlike anyone else, he soon embodies the ardent desire for fundamental social change and with his work makes a very specifically German contribution to the international avant-garde of the sixties and seventies. As a reaction to the largely restorative cultural climate of the Adenauer era, a new generation of artists already arrives on the scene in the early 1960s. The Fluxus movement propagates the notion of moving away from the traditional understanding of an artwork as a material object, of incorporating ideas and action. It is about unifying art and life. Alongside Nam June Paik or Wolf Vostell, Beuys is the main protagonist who promotes this movement and polarizes the public with a new understanding of art.
Up to his controversial dismissal in 1972 because of his insistence that a principle of unrestricted admissions be introduced at the academy, Beuys influences a whole generation of students with his idea of an extended, democratic notion of art. The focus is on the utopian notion of "social plastic." Beuys explains that it will first emerge "when every living person on this planet has also become a creator, a sculptor or an architect of the social organism."
Beuys finds an institutional platform for his ideas at the academy, but one which also still needs to be reformed. That is why the traditional, strictly hierarchical forms of teaching are replaced with discursive debates. During these so-called "ring discussions," the professor discusses both artistic as well as social problems with his students. His definition of art influenced by philosophy, anthroposophy and an alternative economy also involves direct political involvement. So, in 1971, together with students, he occupies the academy's administrative office to protest admissions restrictions.
At the same time, Beuys is interested in more than theory and action. "It is often maintained that in my class everything is only conceptual or political. But I put the greatest value on something coming out of it that is sensuously accessible according to the broad principles of the theory of recognition," he says in 1972 in an interview with Georg Jappe. "The most important thing to me is that people, by virtue of their products, have experience of how they can contribute to the whole and not only produce articles but become a sculptor or architect of the whole social organism. The future social order will take its shape from compatibility with the theoretical principles of art."The Minneapolis Fragments from the Deutsche Bank Collection also show how much his teaching methods are based on these theoretical principles. The series was made in 1974 on the occasion of a lecture he gave at the university there. The fleeting drawings, words and diagrams lend immediate visual form to Beuys' teaching – as a process in flux that sets discussions and thought processes into motion. The professor seldom gave his students concrete assignments. Instead, it was a matter of finding one's own personal content, one's goals, and the paths one needed to take to attain them.
The exhibition Beuys and Beyond – Teaching as Art based on works from the Deutsche Bank Collection shows the very different results his students achieved. From Imi Knoebels’ colorful, geometric abstractions to Norbert Tadeusz' representational watercolors to Katharina Sieverding's conceptual photo works, a broad panorama of media, strategies, aesthetic and conceptual approaches unfolds. At the same time, the exhibition documents how strongly Beuys' philosophy of art influenced the emergence of the Deutsche Bank Collection.
The corporate collection is in fact launched in 1979 – at the end of a decade in which art increasingly searches for contact with social reality. In the 1970s not only does Beuys organize his actions in pedestrian zones, where he hands out leaflets to passers-by calling upon them to take action for more direct democracy; but artists go to factories to familiarize themselves with the everyday workday and to dismantle reservations felt on both sides. And, in 1972, Harald Szeemann's documenta 5 relies on new forms of art presentation outside of the museum context. Culture for everyone is consequently the programmatic title of Hilmar Hoffmann's book that was published in 1979, where the influential politician demands that art and culture be made accessible to as broad a public as possible.
Deutsche Bank is also committed to this deeply democratic approach. Under the motto "Art at the workplace," the bank does pioneering work with the collection: Art is not regarded as a decorative investment for the upper floors of the board, but as cultural capital that should benefit all staff members, visitors and the public. From the outset, it was mainly about enabling a direct encounter with contemporary positions outside of established institutions such as museums or galleries. Whether in employee offices, reception areas or in hallways – contemporary art is impossible to overlook at the various branches. Initially, the bank organizes internal tours of the collection for staff. Later, the commitment to art is increasingly taken outside the bank – through public tours, many loans to museums, as well as through exhibitions from the collection that tour the world with accompanying publications. "Art=Capital" is Beuys' famous formula, which truly reflects the spirit of those times. Deutsche Bank is one of the first companies to take him literally and to make the commitment to contemporary art a permanent part of its corporate culture.
One of the earliest and most important purchases for the Deutsche Bank Collection is consequently a selection of Beuys' drawings. It is no accident that the bank decides on drawings for its first purchase. From the outset, the Deutsche Bank Collection focuses on this medium, which illustrates the initial idea, the draft, the concept – those elements in which the creative, artistic process is very directly, immediately reflected. For Beuys too, the drawing is a very important medium: He regarded it as an "extension of thinking."
If one compares the works of Beuy' students with those of their professor, it is clear that despite stylistic or thematic parallels they are definitely not to be regarded as epigones. On the contrary: It is Beuys' self-proclaimed goal to help his students find their own individual way. Although Beuys was very skeptical of Jörg Immendorff's Maoism-influenced imagery and of the medium of painting in general, he encouraged him to find new ways of seeing things. The realization that "painting has a processual aspect to it" was like an "eye opener" to Immendorff.
Like Beuys, Immendorff also insists on connecting art and life. "If there was something I never wanted, it was to be an artist who remained in an ivory tower," he explained in 2005. So from 1971 to 1981 – a time when he already participated in important exhibitions such as the documenta – Immendorff quite deliberately worked as an art teacher at a Düsseldorf secondary school. And with his emphatically "artless" pictures influenced by agitprop and comics, he regularly takes a stance on social issues, for instance with his works from the Café Deutschland series, which thematize Germany's division.
Katharina Sieverding's photo work Trauer und Wut / Sorrow and Rage (1981) also addresses a contemporary social phenomenon: squatting in West Berlin in the early 1980s. By making photography her preferred medium, Sieverding also very deliberately emancipates herself from Beuys' aesthetic notions. In her self-portraits like the series Transformer (1973/74), Sieverding explores gender roles, glamour, fashion, and mass media images.
Many students from Beuys' class are mainly impressed by the professor's charisma. He appears as the personification of resistance against the prevailing spirit of the age. "In spite of his age, he was open, rebellious, and questioned things that others of his generation swallowed without a word," explained Imi Knoebel in an interview with art historian Petra Richter. "We needed someone who was searching like we were. We were searching for extremes." For Knoebel, his artist friend Rainer (Imi) Giese or Lothar Baumgarten, Beuys' person and attitude were far more important than his work.Knoebel's work is clearly influenced by the reduced formal vocabulary of Russian constructivist Kazimir Malevich and is diametrically opposed to Beuys' own position.The representational works by Norbert Tadeusz are the antithesis of Knoebels' abstractions. While the academy is busy exploring the extended notion of art, he remains true to realism and refers to German Expressionists like Otto Mueller.
In their divergence, the works in Beuys and Beyond – Teaching as Art not only demonstrate the immense creativity of perhaps the most influential German artist of the 20th century and his students. They also show an important part of more recent, German cultural history and do not lastly show how decisively Beuys' thinking has influenced the emergence of the Deutsche Bank Collection. Promoting contemporary art is an integral part of Deutsche Bank's social commitment. Because art asks questions, creates something new. It inspires us, opens new, fresh perspectives, helps overcome borders and cultural barriers. That is why the bank supports many promising up-and-coming artists and gives a broad public access to contemporary positions. With its commitment to art, Deutsche Bank thus makes a long-term contribution to the development of our global society.