Joseph Beuys in Scotland! The thought did strike me as long ago as the summer of 1968 when I first learned of his existence by catching sight of him installing his contributuion to the fourth Documenta exhibition in Kassel.
There. in this arena defining the Olympics of the international art world. his physical presence was unforgettable as he busied himself installing what looked like the furniture a scientist would use in a large-scale laboratory experiment involving volatile and highly dangerous substances. The work was entitled ‘Raumplastic‘
[had no warning. no preparation. no information with which to relate to this deeply disturbing manifestation of art. [was reluctant to introduce myselfto an artist who could have questioned so deeply my work as a gallery director in Scotland.
[kept my distance. Fifty feet separated us as [ walked into his exhibition space with the intention ofsimply passing through the room and through Kassel en route from the 1968 Venice Bienniale to the art world of Amsterdam.
After all. what had Scotland to offer this artist in terms of the [9605‘ Scottish art world? Where could there be in Scotland the equivalent of a Documenta-scale exhibition space? It was certainly not to be found within the confines of the then eight year-old Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art or the two year-old Richard Demarco Gallery — both built as houses attuned to the domestic living spaces beloved of Georgian architects. However. a few months after I had been to Documenta in the summer of 1968, the ideal space for Joseph Beuys was revealed to me in the form of the museum-like interiors provided by the Edinburgh College of Art life-drawing rooms and painting studios. radiating from the splendid sculpture court. It was there that [ presented the exhibition entitled ‘Canada 101‘ in celebration ofCanada‘s one hundred and first birthday.
‘Canada 101‘ was avant garde in its own way and went down well enough with art world cognoscenti in Canada and Britain. but made little impact on the Scottish Art World. [was proud ofthe fact that it was the Demarco Gallery‘s contribution to the 1968 Edinburgh Festival‘s Official Exhibition Programme. It received pride of place in an article on the Edinburgh Festival in the New York-based International Visual Arts Year Book for 1968. After all. the exhibition had introduced the work ofJoyce Weland. Michael Snow. Guido Molinari. Claude Breeze and Yves Gaucher into Britain. Canadian artists who have well deserved their place in the history of post-war international art movements.
I had waited two years until the 1970 Edinburgh Festival. for Joseph Beuys to visit Britain as one of the 35 artists who represented the Dusseldorf art world. in the exhibition whose very title was a work of art in the form of a palindrome by Andre Thomkins: ‘STRATEGY — GETS ARTS’.
Joseph Beuys had come to Edinburgh in May
BEUYS l SCOTLAND
Richard Demarco recalls the arrival ofJosef Beuys in Edinburgh and (below) Alce Bain describes the Beuys restrospective at the
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THE SPIRIT OF BEUYS
1986 in response to my invitation that he should. see the landscape ofScotland. the landscape which had inspired Shakespeare to write Macbeth.
Shakespeare‘s genius. in investing Macbeth with a supernatural dimension through the presence of the Three Witches. provided me with my first effective point ofcontact with Joseph Beuys.
We actually met in January 1970 in his studio in Oberkassel. He was engrossed in conversation with friends. I decided that all [ could offer him to focus his attention on Scotland was not any information on the Edinburgh Festival or the Demarco Gallery. but the images ofScotlandI had with me in the form ofpostcards. The subjects were a mixture of loch. moor and mountian. deer. sheep and highland cattle; castles. prehistoric standing stones and far distant views of islands.
Beuys studied them attentively and then remarked — ‘I see the land of Macbeth. so when shall we two meet again. in thunder. lightning or in rain‘." And so it turned out to be a thundery Monday afternoon when he first arrived in Edinburgh; And my clearest memory of that day is Joseph Beuys standing on the edge of a field not far from Turnhouse Airport. looking at a beautiful white horse silhouetted against the inky black darkness of the afternoon sky.
Joseph Beuys had come to Scotland to redefine the artist‘s relationship with the animal kingdom, as well as with the forces of nature. I became suddenly aware ofthe inadequcy ofthe Demarco Gallery to cope with his creative energies. The gallery was about to be tested to the breaking point. and for that matter so was the Edinburgh Festival.
Try looking at the work of Joseph Beuys withoutthe reassuring notes ofthe catalogue. Two skulls filled with butter. scribbled thoughts on scraps of notepaper and the backs of cigarette packets. What is there in this collection. donated piece by piece from 1957—1987 (he died earlier this year) to Caroline Tisdall. art critic. writer and friend of the artist?
Set out in glass cases. the bits and pieces have faded.
Pressed flowers have become dry. paperfaintly yellow and the butter nearly transparent. It is impossible not to be curious. to ask questions. to probe their origins. This assortment becomes a modern archaeology. an interpretation through objects and marks. of politics. relationships. human nature and nature’s nature. Beuys cuts through what might be regarded as an artist's shackles—
technique. style. medium— and presents tile in the raw. This intimate. physically small gathering ofhis thoughts. underlines the importance of every particle and cornerstone to the making of great work. Atiny oak leaf pressed in 1957 grew during the Eighties into a project which planted 7000 oak trees in Kassell. each with a tiny plaque to mark itasa ‘Beuys Baum‘. As well asthefading lragments he left behind to
remind the world olhis thoughts he also dedicated the living. so often taken for granted to art.
ForBeuys nothing was impossible. lfthere were no lundsfora big projecthe would go to the limits. even appear in a TV commercial. to getthem. AtDusseldorf Academy where he was a protessorhe accepted hundreds of students into his class on the basisthat no one should be refused education whatevertheir
be a man who embraced all the possibilities within his powerto achieve. Beuys was to visit Edinburgh this Festival but the collection must stand without him. his grey hat sits jauntily in its box. a reminderthat his presence will be felt lora long timeto come.
qualifications. The Academy sacked him for it. The Free International University which he set up inthe early Seventies was his answerto them. In New York in 1974. he spenta week caged with a coyote. a performance which Jimmy Boyle. then in the Special
Unit. Barlinnie Prison. saw (Alice Bain)
in direct relationship to
himself. He was that .Jom new: is who
°°V°I°- . . . . Demarco Gallery until 31 “NS exhibition IS humble, August 3“ Listings“),
but it also shows Beuysto details.
The List 21 Aug — 3 Sept 41