Joseph Beuys and The Brain of Europe

The Blackboards, Dublin by Joseph Beuys Image - Collection: Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. Joseph Beuys, one of the major figures in postwar German art was always strongly attracted to Ireland, which he called "The Brain of Europe."

Born in Krefeld in 1921, Beuys suffered serious injuries as a combat pilot during the second world war. Out of that trauma, he came to see art as having a healing function for all of society. After his dismissal from the Dusseldorf Academy of Art in 1971, he pursued his ideal of a new fluidity between individual art forms and between the arts and everyday life.
In 1974, his "Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland" was exhibited in the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin and then at the Arts Council Gallery in Belfast — the “secret person” being James Joyce, whose Ulysses is illustrated on the block. Beuys then travelled around Ireland with the show, lecturing in Derry, Coleraine, Cork, and Limerick, and visiting the megalithic tomb at Newgrange.

The lectures featured blackboard illustrations of a "permanent conference" to get every Irish faction talking. There was some puzzlement: when Beuys spoke in Limerick, his audience consisted of two nuns and a passer- by. But Beuys and his partner Caroline Tisdall also founded a fishing tackle cooperative in Derry and a video and photography workshop in Belfast, and almost completed a deal to set up a Free University for Europe permanently in Dublin, on the site that is now the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
In 1982, Beuys planted 7000 oak trees at the Hill of Uisneach, the ancient ritual centre of Ireland, mirroring a similar planting at Kassel in Germany and providing a living link between the two countries. The oak tree planted by Tisdall in his memory in the IMMA grounds is a token of that connection.

Fintan O'Toole

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Irish Museum of Modern Art
Royal Hospital, Kilmainham,
Dublin 8
IRELAND - IR

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