Petrified fat. Rabbit bones. Worn felt. These are among the many unique materials you may spot upon a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Joseph Beuys exhibit, which runs until October 2019. Located behind the centuries’ old ivory, gold, and alabaster statues of the Thomson Collection of European Art, the Beuys exhibit could not be more different from its surroundings, and for good reason. Beuys’ collection is one of many which the AGO has introduced to expand its offerings of post-1960’s contemporary art, ranging from the American and British Pop Art movement to that of the Italian Arte Povera (Poor Art).
Beuys’ work in particular is representative of the post-minimalism movement, which encourages the use of everyday objects and prioritizes meaning over aesthetic in the creation of art. Through sculpture and framed collage, the Beuys exhibit, in post-minimalist fashion, uses everyday objects to explore the theme of death. Beuys draws on his near-death experience of being shot down as a German Luftwaffe pilot in the Second World War and being rescued by a group of Tatars who wrapped him in felt, wax, and fat, to communicate this theme of death.
The single back room which the exhibit occupies is dominated by two vitrines, or glass display cases, that Beuys has often used to display objects and sculptures, which he believed to be of social significance. The larger of the two, entitled “Hares Grave (Vitrine),” 1964-1979, displays an overwhelming number of foreign objects. On the left is a collection of wood scraps and to the right is a trail of miscellany including empty glue containers, a comb, and most notably, a rabbit’s bone. Leaning against the container’s side are yet more wood scraps and finally, at its rear, lies a large rectangle of cans, empty packages, felt, and many more typically discarded items, all held in place by wax, tape, and other unknown adhesives. The assemblage, carefully curated by Beuys, incorporates found materials such as felt and wax, which were significant in his own experience, to impart upon viewers his feelings of impending death.
Likewise, the dozens of surrounding framed collages and drawings, which make up the rest of the exhibit, feature similar materials evocative of Beuys’ plane crash. Among the pieces are “Two Moons,” featuring two framed pieces of felt sewn together, “Fat Sculpture,” a paper mounted on cardboard covered in fat, and “To Saturn,” which consists of oil, graphite, and aluminum covering a transparent piece of architecture paper.
The Beuys exhibit, through its collection of strange and eclectic pieces, gives visitors a fair insight into the often obscure post-minimalist art movement, and, for those willing to pick out the hidden minutia of Beuys work, offers an interesting perspective into the artist’s personal views of death.