bronze and plastic tube filled with red pigment and water
Düsseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, 5x30 - Düsseldorfer Kunstszene aus 5 Generationen - 150 Jahre Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen 1829-1979, 1979, illustrated
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Joseph Beuys, Natur, Materie, Form, 1991-92, p. 324, no. 253, illustrated
Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, Die Sammlung Ingrid und Willi Kemp, 2001, p. 408, illustrated in colour
Frankfurt, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Blut, Kunst Macht Politik Pathologie, 2001-02, p. 213, illustrated in colour
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Il Mito di Europa, 2002-03, p. 331, no. 127, illustrated
This work is accompanied by a photo-certificate signed and dated 11 December 1969 by Joseph Beuys.
The present Horn is a unique bronze sculpture that was cast in 1969 by Joseph Beuys from his most iconic and powerful work of 1961, (fig. 1) The original work, which is now in the Froehlich Collection and on loan to the Tate Modern in London, featured two real rhino horns which had been given to Beuys by German collector, industrialist and big-game hunter Willy Schniewind. Beuys set the two rhino horns in copper, connected them to plastic hoses filled with red liquid and painted the supporting vertical poles red. Schniewind kept the work outside in his garden but before long the horns began to rot so he returned the sculpture to Beuys for restoration. Whilst restoring the horns, without informing Willy Schniewind, Beuys made bronze casts of them for the fabrication of two more Horn sculptures, the first of which is the present work. The second work now in Darmstadt as part of the Stroeher Block, was cast slightly later in 1970 and consists of two bronze horns.
Horn’s visceral aura of associative and symbolic power epitomises Beuys’ idea that sculpture is an inherently vibrant entity. Having once proclaimed himself as the spokesperson of a political party for innocent animals, Beuys established animals as symbolizing a lost state of innocence and natural grace in humans. Much like the recurring subject of the hare, the Horn for Beuys represents a cyclical process of renewal. A stag’s antlers are the emanation of its entire venous, hormonal and nervous systems throughout a yearly cycle, and in Germanic mythology, are traditionally associated with an animal’s sensitivity to the spiritual world. For Beuys, horns also relate to the inwardness of a feeling being, the power of the soul, and he hints at something similar here by attaching red arterial tubes to the horn and physically grounding it to the energies of the earth through long ‘antennae’. Like the Eurasian staff in Beuys’ work, the tubes here also signify the flow of ideas between cultures and refer to a lost era of human oneness and innocence.
Beuys’ passion for the biological sciences was reflected in his lectures which spoke of art as a transformation of inherent material energies. He believed that sculpture was rooted in life itself and sought to replace the historical concept of carved, obdurate sculpture with a new definition that was as mutable and volatile as the pulse of life. Unlike painting - which he saw as restrictive and only capable of conveying the illusion of existence - Beuys explained that sculpture is “not fixed or finished” but merely material energy in transition.
Beuys’ masterful use of deliberately physiologically provocative objects and materials allows him to bind matter with consciousness. Like one of the artist’s earliest wax sculptures Queen Bee of 1952, Horn alludes to the spiritual connection between art, life and healing. Horns like the 'Hare' and 'Venus' motifs in his work were symbolic for their reproductive, regenerating qualities.
Beuys viewed art as capable of healing collective as well as individual wrongs and the present cyclical nature of the present work epitomises this idea. Central to this was Beuys’ own complex war experience which involved the celebrated, possibly fanciful, crash in the Crimean winter. After being resuscitated by Tartar nomads using fat and felt, the story that nurtured his claim to the role of Shaman, Beuys ended up in a British prison camp until the end of the war. On his return to Germany, he was met by the political and historical trauma of the Holocaust, and forced to face up to his personal part in it.
Beuys associated the disasters of modern society with a rupture between nature and culture, and Horn alludes to a harmony between prehistoric man and nature, presided over by the Earth Goddess. Beuys recalled how during the war he had once sheltered in a cow barn and the smell of straw, manure, milk, cow’s breath and the animals’ body warmth gave him back a sense of primal connection to nature. This was further reflected in his ‘Theory of Sculpture’ which advocated a use of material based not on rational materialism but on a return to the root of the word in ‘mater’ or ‘mother’.
Assuming the role of aesthetic and spiritual healer in a war-broken society, Beuys explained how the artist’s will or Bewegung is merely a catalyst for transforming existing material energies: “The principle of resurrection, transforming the old structure, which dies or stagnates, into a vibrant, life-enhancing and soul-and-spirit-promoting form. This is the expanded concept of art.” (‘Joseph Beuys in Conversation with Friedhelm Mennekes,’ in Memorium, 1986, p. 34) In this light, the act of recasting a rhino horn into bronze to create an entirely new object takes on a more powerful conceptual meaning.
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