Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)
Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)
Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)
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From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot whic… Read more
Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)

Unterwasserbuch (Underwater Book)

Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)
Unterwasserbuch (Underwater Book)
signed and dated 'Joseph Beuys 72' (upper outer edge of the box); incised with the artist's signature and date 'Joseph Beuys 72' (on the flashlight)
galvanised iron box, printed PVC book, underwater flashlight and water
overall: 16 x 49 x 21 3/8 in. (40.6 x 124.4 x 54.4 cm.)
Executed in 1972, this work is from an edition of two unique examples
Galerie Denise René Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf.
Lone Star Foundation, New York.
Dia Art Foundation, New York.
Their sale, Sotheby's New York, 5 November 1985, lot 1.
Emily and Jerry Spiegel Collection, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
H. Bastian (ed.), Sammlung Marx, Berlin 1996, vol. 1, p. 32, no. 4 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 31, detail illustrated, p. 30).
Berlin, Nationalgalerie Berlin Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Sammlung Marx: Beuys, Rauschenberg, Twombly, Warhol, 1982, p. 216, no. 44 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 65, detail illustrated, p. 64). This exhibition later travelled to Mönchengladbach, Städisches Museum Abteiberg.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Modern, Joseph Beuys: Ideas and Actions, 1988, p. 109, no. 32 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 49).
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Joseph Beuys, 1993-1994 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 87). This exhibition later travelled to Madrid, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Paris, Musée national d'art moderne.
Special notice
From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot. Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.
Further details
The other version from the edition is in the Collection Marx, on long-term loan to Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin.

Lot Essay

‘I believe that when someone sees my works I appear to them...’
– Joseph Beuys

‘Wolleh had the incredible ability of sensing object relations. Endowed with great intuitional skills, he was a kind of treasure hunter.’
– Joseph Beuys

Executed in 1972, Joseph Beuys’s Unterwasserbuch (Underwater Book) is a time capsule of Beuys’ most personal motifs, preserved underwater for posterity. A metal torch illuminates a rubber book, whose oversize pages consecutively show forty-three black-and-white photographs of Beuys installing his 1971 exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden; the artist’s first exhibition outside of Germany. In January of that year, the photographer Lothar Wolleh travelled with Beuys to document the installation period; using a camera set up some metres away from the artworks and relying on natural lighting, the resulting photographs are silent witnesses to the process of Beuys at work. With their blurrings, intermittent inky darkness, and Beuys striding in and out, the photographs capture Beuys’ magnetic magic. Initially, planned as an edition of multiples, when Wolleh’s signature black frame was trimmed during the printing process, production was halted. Only two copies of the Joseph Beuys – eine Dokumentation von Lothar Wolleh book were created, the other held at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin. In this work, the underwater torch illuminates a spread of Beuys, caught in a moment of reflection and self-appraisal, standing beside his earlier work, Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp wird überbewertet (The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is overrated), a critique of Duchamp’s withdrawal from art practice in favour of chess. Within Beuys’ self-created mythology, the yellowish light of the torch links to the narrative of his rescue by Tatars after his plane crashed in Crimea during the Second World War, and torches reappear in several of his most significant works including The Sled, 1969, and The Pack, 1969.
Another key element of Beuys’ visual vocabulary was the expressive potential of the empty rectangular box: ‘Symbolically, the dark, empty box is an anti-space that embodies a spiritual shelter and safe haven, which, through its undefined emptiness, offers the opportunity to fill it with something new’ (I. Malz, ‘The Undefined Silence Between: Reflections on Silence, Invisible Phenomena, and Dust Images in the Work of Joseph Beuys’ in M. Ackermann (et. al.), Joseph Beuys: Parallel Processes, Munich, 2010, p. 369). Like the vitrines, plinths and pedestals that separate an artwork from its audience, the box of Unterwasserbuch, rusted on the outside, and smoothly galvanised within, frames its contents and choreographs how they are understood. The water within appears to distort the pages of the book, but also locates the book within a geological timescale, seemingly a preserved remnant of Beuys.
Shedding light on a photograph of a work directly referencing Duchamp, Beuys cleverly brings to the fore and evaluates the Dadaist’s artistic legacy. Whereas Duchamp collapsed the divide between mass production and high art, Beuys sought to demolish the gap between art and life altogether, a desire conveyed through his concept of ‘social sculpture’, or the potential of art to galvanise societal change. As the artist explained, ‘I am interested in the dissemination of physical vehicles in the form of editions, because I am interested in the dissemination of ideas. … You see, the people who own such an object...will continually look to see what the man who produced the thing is doing now...It is like an antenna standing somewhere or other with which you stay connected’ (J. Beuys, quoted in B. Dodenhoff, ‘The Multiples’ in M. Ackermann, et. al., Joseph Beuys: Parallel Processes, Munich, 2010, p. 170).

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