Unbetitelt (Feld)

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)

  • Exhibited

    Kassel, Museum Fridericianum/Friedrichsplatz/Neue Galerie, Documenta V, 30 June - 8 October 1972
    London, Waddington Custot, Joseph Beuys, Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie, 7 July - 7 September 2017

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘Any blackboard which exists is done in a kind of performance or dialogue with many people...The drawing I do principally in public constellation, never when I am alone. I never work with a blackboard with me alone.’ (Joseph Beuys quoted in Ann Temkin and Bernice Rose, Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys, 1993, New York, p.108).

    Joseph Beuys’s pluridisciplinary approach to art often pushes his creations beyond the confines of their medium. Unbetitelt (Feld), created in 1972 and composed of chalk on board, could neither be defined by its supporting structure, nor epitomised by the German scrawls left atop its otherwise vast surface. Rather, it is a polyvalent object endowed with multiple meanings, existing as a living proof of the performative occurrence it witnessed. Acquired directly from the artist and having remained in the same collection for over forty years, Unbetitelt (Feld) furthermore exudes a rare, intimate feel.

    Joseph Beuys executed Unbetitelt (Feld) on the occasion of the fifth installment of the contemporary art event Documenta in Kassel, whereby his hundred-day participation was marked by the performance of a symposium entitled Organisation für direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (Organisation for Direct Democracy by Referendum). A political bureau of sorts, the organisation sought to investigate the very notion of democracy within an established artistic context. Its main attraction, the symposium, was led by Beuys and carried out in installments of interactive lectures. Seated behind a red rose ‘for democracy’ and adopting the countenance of a generous professor, Beuys encouraged members of each renewed audience to share their thoughts in a free-flowing manner, so as to diversify ensuing discussions. Amongst the issues addressed were questions on educational reform, religion, race, gender, atomic energy, and the Eastern bloc. The collaborative effort to achieve democratic dialogue materialised on props; the present blackboards thus doubled as politically charged icons, presenting the content of the lectures.

    Using blackboards to document exchanged ideas since the early 1960s, Beuys later extracted the objects from their specific performative contexts and signed them as stand-alone artworks. In doing so, the artist pushed the boards beyond their passive bystanding nature and transformed them into lasting testaments. Unbetitelt (Feld), boasting meshed expressions such as ‘I search field character’ and ‘Self-contempt of living areas’ at the bottom-left corner of its black surface, is thus symbolic of an unfiltered political arena fixed in time, containing visual traces of a consumed dialogue. It furthermore merges the named and the anonymous, the seen and the unseen, as it bears Beuys’s name but draws from collective effort. As such, it aligns with what the German artist dubbed ‘a social organism as work of art’: an artwork defined by its sheer existence, nourished by the belief that everyone –and perhaps everything– is an artist (Joseph Beuys, Documenta V, 1972).

    Unbetitelt (Feld) also integrates the German artist’s collection of self-proclaimed ‘social sculptures’ created across his career, transcending its own materiality and bearing inherent social value. As expressed by Beuys in his Public Dialogues, ‘social sculptures’ are material installations drawing upon philosophical, sociological and spiritual reflections, dubbed ‘sculptural’ for their artistic form, and ‘social’ for their political potential and evocative nature.

    The theatrical ending of Beuys’ Organisation for Democracy by Referendum at Kassel lends additional weight to its surviving documents. On 8 October 1972, Beuys staged a Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie (Boxing Match For Direct Democracy) with Kassel art student Abraham David Christian, following Christian’s invitation to a fight, proposing that they both represent, respectively, a superior form of government versus direct democracy. The match took place at the Museum Fridericianum against a backdrop of Ben Vautier’s Thinking Room, and featured a rowdy crowd brimming with agitated spectators. Beuys’ student, Anatol Herzfeld, refereed three fair rounds after which he declared Beuys the winner, ‘on points for direct democracy through direct hits.’ Beuys’s participation at Kassel thus bore an ironic conclusion: it implied that democracy may win, though through the use of undemocratic means (and, what’s more, violence).

20

The Property of a European Collector

Unbetitelt (Feld)

signed, inscribed and dated 'Joseph Beuys Kassel 1972' on the reverse; further stamped ‘Organisation für direkte Demokratie’ on the reverse
chalk on board
199.8 x 150 cm (78 5/8 x 59 in.)
Executed in 1972.

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £465,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018