Joseph Beuys at Joseph Beuys, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1979-80, with Strassenbahn-haltestelle (Tram Stop) (1976), Nationalgalerie Hamburger Bahnhof, Sammlung Marx, and Unschlitt/Tallow (1977), Nationalgalerie Hamburger Bahnhof, Eigentum Land Berlin, Photograph Mary Donlon, © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Matthew Barney

Affinities, Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney: Materials and Metaphors

Joseph Beuys, Terremoto in Palazzo, 1981, Pencil and collage on paper, 21.5 x 27.7 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 91.3963, Photograph © FMGB Bilbao.

Matthew Barney, Chrysler Imperial, CREMASTER 3, 2002.

All in the Present Must Be Transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys, installation view, Deutsche Guggenheim, 2006.

All in the Present Must Be Transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys, installation view, Deutsche Guggenheim, 2006.


Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
701 Dorsoduro
+39 041 2405404
All in the Present Must Be Transformed:
Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys

June 6-September 2, 2007

All in the present must be transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys examines affinities between the two artists, who, though separated by generation and geography, share certain key aesthetic and conceptual concerns. Drawn largely from the Guggenheim Museum’s in-depth holdings of works by Barney and Beuys, the exhibition examines the metaphoric use of materials, the focus on metamorphosis, and the relationship between action and its documentation in their respective practices. It also reveals fundamental, philosophical differences between Barney and Beuys-fueled by the divide between modern and postmodernist thought- that, in turn, further enhances our understanding of each artist's work.

The exhibition had its premiere in 2006 at Deutsche Guggenheim, the unique joint venture between Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in Berlin. Owing to the specific character and complexity of the exhibition, all in the present must be transformed will be shown in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, traditionally dedicated to Peggy Guggenheim’s collection. To accommodate this temporary installation the masterpieces of the museum’s permanent collection will be presented in the special exhibition galleries for the duration of the show.

The exhibition features a broad selection of works on paper by each artist, which will demonstrate a shared graphic sensibility and the centrality of drawing to each of their oeuvres. Sketches of sculptural processes, organic systems, and metamorphic passages by both Barney and Beuys are composed with a similar delicate, almost tentative line.

Whether emanating from existing work, preceding it in a catalytic manner, or being realized as part of a performance, drawing reveals the conceptual underpinnings of their practices. Iconographically, the drawings chart each artist’s absorption in transformative processes and personal cosmologies. Beuys used the cruciform shape as a graphic symbol for his conviction that art could function as a therapeutic force in the world. As a logo, it presages Barney’s use of the “field emblem” as an identifying marker in his work. An ellipsis bisected horizontally by a single bar, the symbol represents a body disciplined by restraint, a flow of raw energy held in check, an arena of pure potential.

The sculptures on view each distil a complex narrative into discernable form, creating a microcosm of each artist’s aesthetic and conceptual system. Barney’s Chrysler Imperial (2002) encapsulates sequences from the final film of his five-part CREMASTER cycle (1994-2003), which summarizes his essential themes. Each of the five main components, abstracted from cars competing in a demolition derby set in the lobby of the Chrysler Building, ca. 1930, bears the insignia of a specific CREMASTER episode and embodies the conflicts explored in the film cycle. As an abridged version of the cycle, Chrysler Imperial exemplifies how Barney shapes cinematic narrative into sculptural dimensions — using his signature Vaseline and cast plastics — to extrapolate in space what he explores in time.

Beuys likewise infuses eccentric materials with metaphor in Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz (Honey Pump at the Workplace) (1977), a work that sculpturally articulates the activities that occurred during the 100 days of Documenta VI in Kassel, Germany in 1977. During the course of the exhibition, two tons of honey were pumped via a system of pipes and tubes from the stairwell of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum through the spaces where discussions, seminars, films, and demonstrations were staged by the Free International University. Beuys associated the circulating honey, with warmth and energy. It signified the potential of the FIU, which equated creativity with social activism, to infiltrate mainstream society. Afterwards, the installation was dismantled and exhibited in its static state.

The exhibition aims to explore, in the works of both artists, the relationship between live performance and the presentation of its documentation along with the objects it generates. Among the works exhibited by Beuys will be a video documenting his 1968 performance in Antwerp Eurasienstab (Eurasian Staff). The artist’s concept of Eurasia evoked both the ancient cultural distinctions between East and West and the divided state of his native Germany, a wound embodied by the Berlin Wall. Beuys symbolized the philosophical and geographical schism between these poles with the divided cross, a form that denotes equally the spiritual (given its association with Christianity), the pagan, and the political. In the 1968 action Vacuum↔Mass Beuys filled an iron chest in the form of a half-cross with fat and bicycle pumps before welding the structure shut. The resulting sculpture Eisenkiste aus Vakuum↔Masse (Iron Chest from Vacuum↔Mass) (1968)—which Beuys claimed related to concepts of expansion and contraction — is exhibited along with a video documenting its creation.

Barney’s formative installation, Field Dressing (1989) fuses performance, video, and sculpture in an equation that has informed all of his subsequent work. The video monitors reveal actions that Barney performed by interacting with the sculptural elements on view, invoking the hubristic yearnings of extreme athletics, the attempt to create form through resistance, and the idea of potentiality unleashed through discipline.

Beuys’s glass vitrines evoke the display mechanisms of both the fine art and natural history museum. The dual reference forwards his argument that art cannot be understood separately from either the social or organic worlds. The vitrine from 1983 includes Fat Filter (1964) and Sledge (1969), a multiple that invokes the theme of survival at the core of Beuys’s personal mythology. Another vitrine from 1984 features artifacts from a 1974 action in Pescara titled Incontro con Beuys, which refer to his concepts of insulation and energy production: a copper plate wrapped in felt and Italian sausages that Beuys sliced during the performance. For Barney, the vitrine offered a solution for the presentation of his editioned CREMASTER films as sculpture. CREMASTER 2 (1999), which deployed the story of Mormon murderer Gary Gilmore as a narrative armature for Barney’s exegesis on the conflict between fate and will, engendered a vitrine lined with honeycomb — a reference to Utah’s state emblem of the beehive. CREMASTER 3 (2002), which utilizes the partition of Ireland as a structural element, generated a vitrine constructed from green and orange plastic, the colors of the Irish flag.

The exhibition is being organized by Nancy Spector, Chief Curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It will be accompanied by fully-illustrated catalogue in Italian or English, with texts by Spector, Christian Scheidemann, Mark Taylor, and Nat Trotman.

Joseph Beuys, Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz (Honey Pump at the Workplace), 1977, Two tons of honey, 200 lb. (100 kg) of margarine, two ship’s engines, steel container, plastic tube, and three bronze pots, Overall dimensions variable, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, Photograph Strüwing Foto, © Joseph Beuys by SIAE 2007.

Matthew Barney, Field Dressing, 1989-90, Teflon, cast leaded optical crystal, latex foam, nylon, Pyrex, petroleum jelly, speculum, aluminum, stainless steel, freezer, cast microcrystalline wax, magnesium carbonate, and two-channel video, Overall dimensions variable, Collection of the artist, Installation view, Into Me / Out of Me, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2006, Photograph David Regen, courtesy Gladstone Gallery, © 2007 Matthew Barney. Used by permission. All rights reserved.