“A Unique Partnership” examines the artistic camaraderie of two great names in the post World War era. Joseph Beuys, a prestigious German artist and lecturer and Richard Demarco, a Scottish patron and champion of the arts.
The exhibition is a detailed showcase of Beuys’ years in Edinburgh during the early seventies, documented in a combination of photography, prints, video, installation and letters at a time when Beuys had reached his artistic apex with “active” artwork becoming his primary medium.
Works like “Three Pots for the Poor House” (June 1974) demonstrate a mode that would eventually come to be known as conceptual art. Here, three pots are presented in a stack and attached by string to a chalkboard. Although seemingly ambiguous in meaning, Beuys uses lectures to explain the symbolism; in this case it is a trio of thinking, feeling and will.
Although within the Fluxus collective there was a familiarisation with this type of conceptual art, it had not yet spread to Britain. Hence Demarco played a pivotal role in enlightening his nation to this new movement by inviting Beuys to Edinburgh to do a number of lectures, (one poster even advertises the lectures lasted up to twelve hours) and exhibiting Beuys’ work in his own performative space come gallery.
The exhibition also draws the lens over Beuys’ increasing personal politicisation that became inextricable from his work. One piece examines Beuys’ stance on America with a somewhat ironic poster, “I Like America and America likes Me” (1974). For this piece, Beuys quarantined himself in an American gallery with only a coyote, even being ferried to and from the airport in an ambulance. This refusing to engage with external American society, epitomises Beuys’ relationship with the nation, as a fierce anti-Vietnam War protester, anti-nuclear weapons and socialist advocate it is clear he found little comfort in American political strategy.
Given this, it is almost unexpected that there was an amicable relationship between Beuys and contemporary artist Andy Warhol. Yet the exhibitions sees the two co-existing, indeed there are two pop art prints by Warhol depicting Beuys in his iconic felt hat. It is clear then that despite their differing mediums and political stances, there was a mutual respect of one another as representatives of two different, but equally expansive, art movements: pop art and conceptualism.
It has been 30 years since the death of Joseph Beuys’ and yet his name and his work, in part due to Richard Demarco, have been immortalised worldwide. Beuys’ understanding that no work can have purely aesthetic purpose would continue to have precedence into the next century. However his value of all art forms and the message that he mobilised and spread that is so crucial. “Everyone is an artist”, and we can all contribute to molding the great sculpture of society.