In order to create Fahne, Beuys used a folding rule as the flagpole, which he painted in a distinctive matt brown oil paint, so called “Braunkreuz” - an earthy reddish tone, related to both the colour of antirust agents and Pompeian red - a colour the artist invented. The work can thus be regarded as an objet trouvé, to which Beuys added an additional, new layer of meaning through the addition of paint.
Furthermore, Fahne can be seen as an homage to Gengis Khan, the Mongolian nomad leader who conquered large parts of Asia and Europe in the thirteenth century. From the beginning the work of Joseph Beuys has shown his interest in the ancient cultures of the Eurasian continent and looking back at the artist’s oeuvre we can see a reoccurring subject of the flag in works relating to Khan.
To Beuys the brown flag is a monochromatic symbol of earth and soil, which belongs to humanity rather than to a particular country. Beuys expresses that such an earth flag can be a symbol of much greater significance than the representation of a single nation or union of states. The artist was an early environmentalist and climate change activist, as well as one of the founding members of the German ecologist party Die Grünen, thus the reoccurring theme in Beuys artistic oeuvre. The present work was created just after Beuys toured the United States, where his lectures became increasingly political. Speaking to the crowd gathered at The New School for Social Research in New York, he said “I’m not here to speak about the particular problems of artists, but about the whole question of potential, the possibility that everybody can do his own particular kind of art and work for the new social organization. Creativity is national income” (Joseph Beuys, cited in: Caroline Tisdall, “Energy Plan for the Western Man,” in: Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man, New York 1993, p. 8). In the same year of the present work was executed an acclaimed exhibition on Beuys works on paper was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery in Edinburgh and the ICA in London. Only two years later in 1976, Beuys was chosen to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale, further strengthening his position as one of the most influential German artists of our time.
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