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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
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
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.