Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Joseph Beuys
1921 - 1986
variously inscribed
pencil, ink and watercolour on paper, in 21 parts
each: 10.3 by 7.3 cm. 4 1/8 by 2 7/8 in.
Executed in 1971.
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Lucio Amelio, Naples
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Germano Celant, Beuys: Tracce in Italia, Naples 1978, pp. 188-189, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1971, Untitled is an exquisite suite of 21 drawings that represents an outpouring of unrestrained creativity by one of the leading and most influential artists of the Twentieth Century. Reflecting Joseph Beuys’ encyclopaedic interest in nature, science, philosophy, mythology, society, politics and religion, the present work is a visual amalgam in which written observations coalesce with intricate watercolour drawings, revealing the artist’s multifaceted approach towards different media and alternative forms of artistic expression. While Beuys manifested his idiosyncratic position within the art world as an artist but also as a teacher, performer, political activist, and social reformer via his Happenings, performances, and sculptures, it is in the intimate medium of drawing that he was able to visualise and communicate his complex ideas of nature and society. As Beuys himself noted: “Drawing is the first visible form in my works… the first visible thing of the form of the thought, the changing point from the invisible powers to the visible thing… you have also incorporated the senses… the sense of balance, the sense of vision, the sense of audition, the sense of touch” (Joseph Beuys cited in: Bernice Rose, 'Joseph Beuys and the Language of Drawing', in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys, 1993, p. 73).

By fusing drawing with writing and viewing with reading, the present work is exemplary of Beuys’ output of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Similar to artists like Cy Twombly, the idea of abstract writings merging with illegible scribbles and only few legible words sprawled over the work is deeply embedded within Beuys’ practice. The colour of the watercolour drawings in the present work is strongly reminiscent of Beuys’ iconic colour Braunkreuz (or 'Brown Cross'), which the artist first started to use in his drawings from the early 1950s. With this particular colour tone of brown Beuys associated the idea of earth and blood, which in conjunction results in life energy. While the colour was often applied with the motif of a cross, Beuys later used to colour in various types of drawings, which, alongside felt and fat, became synonymous with the artist.

Created around the same time as his famous Blackboard drawings, the present work similarly reflects on Beuys’ increasing social and political actions. It is in this period that he developed the concept of 'social sculpture', where the actual materials and objects were substituted by Happenings in form of lectures and debates to bring about social change through democratic discussions with those that came to see and hear him. The drawings from this period very much reflect on this activity and are suffused with his social and political ideas. In a transformation from performer to political activist and social reformer, the works from this period demonstrate the crucial importance of the drawings on the artist’s expanding concepts of art and life. His concern with social and intellectual reform led him into politics in the 1970s, but also into a new artistic territory of drawings both diagrammatic and emblematic, which he used to illustrate his thought. Curator Ann Tempkin reflected on the importance of drawing for the artist: “Beuys has been described by those who knew him as constantly drawing; he drew while traveling, while watching TV, while in private discussion, while in performance. Beuys’s attitude toward drawings implied it to be as intrinsic to him as breathing” (Ann Tempkin, 'Joseph Beuys: Life Drawing', cited in: ibid., p. 27).

Contemporary Art Day Auction