All in the Present Must Be Transformed
on Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys at the Deutsche Guggenheim
On the occasion of the exhibition "All in the Present Must Be Transformed:
Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys," at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin
Oliver Koerner von Gustorf spoke with curator Nancy Spector about two
heroes of contemporary art, utopian dreams, and risky combinations.
Matthew Barney, CREMASTER 3, 2002,
Photo Chris Winget,
A daring endeavor: for the first time,
an exhibition is juxtaposing works by
Matthew Barney and
All in the Present Must Be Transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys
reveals a surprising array of common denominators between the German
shaman, renewer, and healer and Post-Modernism’s mysterious faun from the
USA, such as their mutual interest in metamorphosis, theatrical
presentation, and ambiguous performance. Following its premiere at the
Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, the exhibition will be on show at the
Peggy Guggenheim Collection during the 52nd
Venice Biennale in 2007. The project was organized by
Nancy Spector, Curator of Contemporary Art and Director of Curatorial
Affairs at the
Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Joseph Beuys, 1979,
©The Solomon R.
Guggenheim Foundation, New York
Koerner von Gustorf: How did you
originally come up with the idea of combining Matthew Barney’s and Joseph
Nancy Spector: The idea for the
exhibition occurred to me while installing Matthew’s
exhibition of The Cremaster Cycle
at the Guggenheim in 2003. We discussed the fact that Joseph Beuys had been
the subject of an exhibition 24 years earlier in which he similarly
created an overall narrative that encapsulated his entire project to date.
The show was not just an arrangement of objects, but rather a mise en
scène that articulated the mythology that was his life story.
Matthew was extremely interested in that history, and we even looked for
an installation plan and other material in our archives. We didn’t speak
specifically about Beuys’ work at that time as much as register the
coincidence that Matthew was also making a show that operated as a
Gesamtkunstwerk in a way that wove the entire Cremaster Cycle
together. And then, separately, I have been having an ongoing conversation
over the past three years with
Mark Taylor, professor of theology at
Williams College, who has written on points of contact between Barney
and Beuys; and he’s contributed an abridged version of his ideas to our
Matthew Barney, Chrysler Imperial, 2002
Photo David Heald,
©Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
How did you start preparing for the show in Berlin?
I first asked
Matthew if he would be willing to do this, because it would have been
impossible without his participation. I wish I could have also asked for
Beuys’ permission. It’s a very sensitive and risky thing to do, you know,
juxtaposing two artists’ work, when only one of them can speak to the
situation. This project is about shared concerns and similar
sensibilities, but it also reveals essential and meaningful differences.
By reading Barney and Beuys together, one can, I hope, learn something new
about both artists.
How did you go about selecting the works?
The exhibition is premised largely on work in the Guggenheim’s permanent
collection, as both artists are represented in depth, with really
excellent examples by each including Matthew’s Chrysler Imperial
, 2002, and Beuys’
Terremoto, 1981, which give evidence to how both artists distilled
their elaborate narrative constructs into their sculpture. In addition to
a selection of works on paper and vitrines by each artist, also drawn from
the collection, there will be some key loans to illustrate the more
performative element of their respective oeuvres. We are borrowing
Matthew’s seminal video installation FIELD DRESSING (orifill)
, 1989-90, which reveals the essential relationship between action and
object in his art. We will also exhibit Beuys’ Felt Angles
from one of his performances of Eurasian Staff (1967) in proximity
to archival footage of the action.
Joseph Beuys, Terremoto, 1981,
© Solomon R.
Guggenheim Foundation, New York;
©2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
There was the opportunity to do the show at the Deutsche Guggenheim, but one
can imagine it happening earlier. Why do you think the time is right for
I don’t really know how one judges whether a
time is right or not. We had the opportunity to make this show happen this
year in a relatively brief amount of time. Since I know Matthew’s work
well, there was a kind of practicality built into the project, and working
with our collection allows us a certain amount of flexibility and freedom.
But to say that now is the time for showing Barney and Beuys together, as
opposed to any other time, would be an overstatement. Having said that,
however, Matthew’s work is continuing to evolve at an amazing pace. He
just exhibited the remarkable
Drawing Restraint 9 in Japan, Korea, and San Francisco. Everyone was
wondering what he was going to do after The Cremaster Cycle, and I
think that’s been answered.
There’s a lot of new interest in his
work, whereas with Beuys, I believe, the interest has perhaps waned a bit.
Maybe his work is ripe for rediscovery. As an American curator, I have
tried to be sensitive to the fact that doing a show in Germany about
Joseph Beuys is a complicated endeavor. Add an American artist to the mix
and you are further complicating things. I have, therefore, approached the
material with great caution. I understand that the younger generation in
Germany is not particularly interested in Beuys’ work, and that probably
results from of a number of things.