Thinking is Sculpture

25 June to 1 November 2021

In a major joint exhibition project in Bonn and Duisburg, the Bundeskunsthalle and the Lehmbruck Museum are taking a look at the work of Joseph Beuys in its close connection to Wilhelm Lehmbruck. The large exhibition of works is part of the beuys2021 programme, which is taking place throughout NRW and beyond to mark the 100th anniversary of Joseph Beuys' birth.

There are not many artists who have caused such a lasting upheaval in the history of art as Joseph Beuys. In 1986, Beuys was awarded the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize. In his speech at the award ceremony, he describes how he found his concept of social sculpture through the work of Lehmbruck: "Everything is sculpture!", the image of a work by Wilhelm Lehmbruck called out to him, Beuys said in his acceptance speech. He subsequently expanded the boundaries of art with his idea of 'social sculpture‛ in order to transfer the freedom thus gained to society as a whole. The exhibitions, which take place simultaneously at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn and the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, present the work of both German sculptors comprehensively for the first time and place it in dialogue with each other.

The exhibitions shed new light on the work of both artists and show the connections made by Beuys himself when, to the surprise of many, he referred to Lehmbruck, forty years his senior, as "my teacher" at the beginning of his now legendary speech. Although it is known that there was never an academic teacher-pupil relationship (Lehmbruck died in 1919), Beuys speaks of a deep relationship, of a "basic experience" when encountering Lehmbruck's work. The most important common ground between the two artists is probably their conviction that art has the power not only to explain the world, but to change our social fabric for the better. If for Lehmbruck sculpture was "the essence of things, the essence of nature, that which is eternally human", Beuys deduced from this the new sculptural imperative: "Everything is sculpture!" It is the means of transformation, of transition from one state to another.

The work of both artists, who were born in the Lower Rhine region and studied sculpture at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, also has a tragic component. The experience of war has left clear traces in the work of both. Perhaps it is the traces of this existential experience that Joseph Beuys felt when he first saw an image of a sculpture by Lehmbruck: "The extraordinary work of Wilhelm Lehmbruck touches a threshold situation of the plastic concept." And it is precisely this threshold situation, where Beuys locates his "teacher", that the exhibition makes it possible to experience. What is meant is the phase at the end of Classical Modernism in which a sculptor like Lehmbruck updated the concept of sculpture. According to Beuys, Lehmbruck's work had reached a climax. It was "something inward", to be grasped only intuitively, with senses other than the sense of sight, namely through the "hearing, the sensing, the willing".

Beuys emphasises characteristics of Lehmbruck's work that we find in key works such as the Kniende (1911), the Gestürzte (1915/16) or the Sitzender Jüngling (1916/17).

In Lehmbruck's sculptures, one senses a devotion, an inner absorption. This is an impulse that Beuys also names. He is firmly convinced that not only the active but also the suffering enrich the world and sees a direct connection between suffering and creating. Tragedy and pain in Lehmbruck's life and its influence on his art inspire Beuys. "Show your wound" - because only a wound that is visible can also be healed.

In Beuys' eyes, the healing message resonates in the works, the appeal to humanity that Beuys also embraces and declares the main goal of his 'Soziale Plastik‛ ('Social Sculpture‛). Using paradigmatically selected works, the two exhibitions in Bonn and Duisburg refer to the human existential as a core theme in the work of both artists.

Some time before Joseph Beuys publicly outlined the importance Wilhelm Lehmbruck had for his own artistic development, the works of both artists met at documenta III in 1964. At the time, Beuys was one of the lesser-known artists, still not very popular even among experts. His unconventional sculptural works caused widespread incomprehension, but did enjoy some attention in the media. Beuys was invited to participate a total of five times, from documenta III (1964) to documenta 7 (1982). Today, a review of his contributions seems like the documentation of his artistic development par excellence: from sculptor and draughtsman to revolutionary of the expanded concept of art and developer of 'social sculpture‛. Lehmbruck, on the other hand, was one of the masters of modern art that the documenta tried to (re-)popularise in its early days. The cultural-political significance of the documenta in the context of the young Federal Republic, which sought to consolidate its position in the Western alliance of states, plays an important role in this context. The photo of Lehmbruck kneeling at the first documenta has become an icon of exhibition history. It stood in the rotunda, at the foot of the central staircase of the Fridericianum, and thus in exactly the same place where Joseph Beuys showed his Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz 22 years later during documenta 6 (1977). The exhibitions at the Bundeskunsthalle and the Lehmbruck Museum also illuminate this aspect of the history of the influence of both artists and outline their progressive, time-critical impulses. For Lehmbruck too, as he himself put it, "Sculpture, like all art, is the highest expression of time", while Beuy

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The 3G rule applies to all exhibition visitors on Sunday, September 26 2021. Admission only with proof of vaccination / recovery or with a negative corona test.

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Literatur zur Ausstellung in der Bibliothek


Photography for private purposes is permitted.
We point out that the works of Joseph Beuys are protected by copyright. The rights are exercised by VG Bild-Kunst.