Exhibition “Beuys Brock Vostell” Work and Influence

Bazon Brock, “The Line of Hamburg”. Joint Action of Bazon Brock and Friedensreich Hundertwasser at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg, 18th-20th December 1959.
Bazon Brock, “The Line of Hamburg”. Joint Action of Bazon Brock and Friedensreich Hundertwasser at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg, 18th-20th December 1959. | Photo: Photo-graphic Witting, © Bazon Brock, © 2014 Hundertwasser Archive, Vienna

Each of them produced an extensive œuvre, they were friends with one another and appeared together at important actions. The Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (ZKM) has now dedicated an exhibition to the three major German action artists Joseph Beuys, Bazon Brock and Wolf Vostell that throws light on their central role in post-war art and in particular performative art.

The experience of the Second World War was formative for many artistic positions; in the cases of Beuys, Brock and Vostell it was long to form a thematic focus; they always remained political. If colleagues found their means of expression in the abstract painting of Art Informel, for the three it was about seeing off traditional media so as to extend the concept of the “work”; it was about sculpture as action and, above all things, the inclusion of the public. All three found a form of teaching that resulted in changing their reception. They agitated and argued, demonstrated and discussed. While Joseph Beuys, quite the missionary, organised his actions before the public, in most of Vorstell’s actions the public was requested to participate actively, and Bazon Brock comported himself ambivalently towards the issue. Today the latter, who is still perceived primarily as art educator of the nation, sometimes assumed the role of actor, and sometimes that of animator.

Exhibition “Beuys Brock Vostell” – Video guide with Bazon Brock

Honey pump and Starfighter

Brock, the only survivor of the triad, sums it up as follows: he had influence, but no work; Vorstell, a work but no influence; and Beuys, both work and influence. At the heart of the exhibition are the actions in which all three took part: for example, the Festival of New Art in Aachen on 20 July 1964, the 24-hour happening at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, telecasts such as the series Drehscheibe (ie, Hub) and the Documenta 6 in 1977. At the latter large-scale event in Kassel, Beuys installed the Honey Pump at the Workplace and used the space as a permanent forum for discussion. There for the second time Brock also opened his “visitors’ school”, which taught an understanding of contemporary art, while Vostell’s contribution originally intended to set a Starfighter on the roof of the Fridericanum, but was foiled by the authorities, who felt uneasy about its political sensitivity. As if a posthumous satisfaction, the combat aircraft now hovers in the atrium of ZKM. In addition, with the work Transmigración (1958), the museum presents a new accession to the collection’s holdings. It is one of the first works in the history of art in which a television is an integral part of the work. Vorstell was a pioneer not only in the participative arts.

Of course, the actions that went under the names of Fluxus, happening and Agit-Pop make up only a part of each artist’s œuvre. As if in explanation, individual works of the three artists, who were actually quite different in their approaches, have been integrated into the Karlruhe show. The beginnings of Germany’s contribution to performance art, on the other hand, can be illustrated only by means of relicts, written and photographic documents, and film records.
Slide show: Beuys Brock Vostell

Long-cherished plan

“We can prepare a meaningful, hard-hitting publication BBV (Beuys Brock Vostell) all the better with plenty of texts and posters. Give us some time for this.” wrote Vostell to Brock on Christmas 1964 about the deliberations of the triumvirate on manifesting their joint actions in the form of a book. And time they have been given. Fifty years later, the ZKM is now working on this important book project and is thus also setting the capstone to their thematic focus on the beginnings of performativity and participation. As before in the exhibition Moments and Franz Erhard Walther. Raum durch Handlung (ie, Franz Erhard Walther. Space through Action) (both in 2012), Peter Weibel, Director of the ZKM, wanted to fulfil the museum’s obligation to “supply a memory of the historical conditions of current trends and work them up for discussion”.

Joseph Beuys, born in 1921 in Krefeld, died in 1986 in Düsseldorf, is considered one of the most influential figures of German post-war art. The main concern of his “social sculpture” was art’s influence on political and social changes.

Bazon Brock, born in 1936 in Stolp, studied German literature, philosophy and political science, and taught aesthetics and cultural mediation in Hamburg, Vienna and Wuppertal. In addition to his “visitors’ school” at the documenta 4 (1968), 5 (1972) and 6 (1977), Brock is known to a wide audience as moderator of the series Bilderstreit (ie, Iconoclastic Controversy), broadcast by 3Sat from 1997 to 2008.

Wolf Vostell, born in 1932 in Leverkusen, died in 1998 in Berlin, was an apprentice in lithography and then received his artistic training in Paris und Düsseldorf. He is regarded as one of the most important German figures of Fluxus and happening art, and also as a pioneer of video art. Central elements of his œuvre are décollage, blurring and works in concrete.

Beuys Brock Vostell – Aktion. Partizipation. Performance (ie, Beuys Brock Vostell – Action, Participation, Performance) will be published by Hatje Cantz in October 2014.