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"Joseph Beuys: The Secret Block for a Secret Person in"
1999-07-22 until 1999-09-16
Royal Academy of the Arts
London, , UK United Kingdom

Joseph Beuys was born in 1921 in the town of Kleve in Germany and died in 1986 in Düsseldorf. He was a charismatic person and an immensely influential artist, who extended the boundaries of what art could be. Like the other great figures of 20th century art, Warhol and Duchamp, a central part of Beuys’s achievement was the creation of his extraordinary persona —something that has been admired and imitated by artists up the present day. Beuys worked with a huge range of media — sculpture, installations, actions (as he called his performances) and lectures. However, his drawings have a particular immediacy and excitement as the first expression, in many cases, of his ideas.

Beuys selected the drawings for the mysteriously-named The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland himself, from his output between 1936 and 1976, adding to the block throughout his career until it reached a total of 456 sheets. For Beuys, thinking was form, a creative process as concrete as sculpture. In all, he probably drew 10,000 sheets, while travelling, watching TV, chatting to friends or in performance. As Beuys himself said, There are thousands of drawings in private collections, but the nature of this secret block is different … as a whole it represents my selection of thinking forms in evolution over a period of time.

Beuys invested a semi-mystical significance in such natural phenomena as the carving of valleys by glaciers in the ice age, the energy contained in volcanoes, and the Aurora Borealis. Fat and felt materials assumed extraordinary importance for him because, as legend has it, when his Luftwaffe plane was shot down over the Crimea in 1943, a local band of Tartars saved his life by wrapping him in these warmth-sustaining materials. German folklore, the traditional magical properties of certain animals and, the natural cycle of a woman’s body were all additional subjects for the drawings, while the materials he used range from pencil to brown floor paint, gold leaf, blood and fat.

The somewhat fragile beauty of the works contrasts with the striking authority that they exude and to see them en masse, as they will be shown at the Royal Academy, will be an extraordinary experience.

The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland is owned by Erich Marx and is on long-term loan to the Berlin National Gallery. The co-curators for this exhibition are Heiner Bastian (the Beuys expert and dealer who lives in Berlin) and Norman Rosenthal, also an expert on Beuys, and Exhibitions Secretary of the Royal Academy, with the assistance of the Royal Academy Exhibitions Curator, Isabel Carlisle. A selection from the Secret Block was last shown in this country at the Oxford Museum of Modern Art in 1974. It has never been shown here in its entirety.


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