- Artist Rooms
A medium invented, and first used, by the German artist Joseph Beuys in the late 1950s. It literally translates as ‘brown cross’. Composed of a mixture of paint and blood, it evokes images of rust, dirt, excrement and blood. As a term it has associations with Christianity, Nazism, National Socialism, war and the occult. By varying the qualities of the component parts, Beuys could experiment with the colour, density and texture of this unusual material.
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Untitled 1963–4 is a multi-part work by the German artist Joseph Beuys composed of four individual newspaper sections arranged in three picture frames. From left to right as installed, the first frame contains two newspapers folded in half one above the other; the middle frame contains one newspaper folded into a quarter page; while the third frame on the right displays a final newspaper in a flat, unfolded state. The disparate parts are united by the brown oil paint that has been applied on top of every surface, outlining various shapes and motifs and masking off portions of the newspaper text and images. This brown substance is Beuys’s Braunkreuz – a type of common, household oil paint first used by the artist in 1958, and which he named ‘Brown cross’ after the form on which he first experimented with the paint (Seymour 1983, p.21.). Its reddish-brown hue is reminiscent of rust, dried blood, and dirt, while the name evokes symbols associated with such far-ranging ideologies as Christianity, Nazism, and occultism. It features in many of Beuys’s drawings of the 1960s, from small interventions such as the triangle in Play 17 1963 (AR00115) to grand painterly sweeps, for example the main element in the drawing Felt Action 1963 (AR00700). As the writer and curator Anne Seymour explains of Braunkreuz:
Sometimes a colour may be chosen deliberately so as not to have any other connotations, especially with art … It has been used in drawings … mostly sculptural in large solid areas, more as substance than colour … The inference that this is very much a sculptor’s approach to working on paper is emphasised by the grounds Beuys uses for drawings and the way he incorporates collage or mounts several sheets together into a single image.
(Seymour 1983, p.21.)
Seymour’s description of a sculptural mode of drawing is especially appropriate for Untitled, where two-dimensional paper surfaces are enhanced by the folded weight and mass of the many unseen pages of newspaper behind the painted sheets that are presented to the viewer. Beuys’s interest in science, energy and politics is reflected in his careful selection of newspaper sections with resonant headlines, articles and photographs. In the left-hand frame, the top paper’s article refers to Brussels and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), while its Braunkreuz overpainted image resembles a primitive generator or battery, the brown form thereby linking thematically to the written content it partially obscures. The newspaper below it carries the headline ‘Conversation with Adenauer and Erhard’, which refers to Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Ludwig Erhard, who succeeded him in 1963, the year that this work was made. The painted form on this sheet appears to be an electrical transmitter or conductor with rods.
The central newspaper, folded to a quarter-page, is covered with a cross of Braunkreuz that quarters the page again and cancels out a portion of text and part of a black and white photograph. This obscured image is not readily discernible but could perhaps be an atom cloud, linking back to the first sheet’s Euratom content. The final, right-hand frame with its unfolded, full-page newspaper is covered almost entirely with Braunkreuz paint, leaving only the top visible to confirm its identity as the ‘Nature and Science’ section of the Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung and dated Tuesday 16 June 1964. In this section of the newspaper the headlines refer to metals and their transformation or conversion and deep-sea submersibles. There is also a cropped picture of machinery which could be one of these underwater probes.
The curator Ann Temkin sees a clear historical precedent for the Braunkreuz newspaper works such as this one, claiming that:
Beuys was extending the Cubist collage tradition, which had been explored by Germans such as Kurt Schwitters and John Heartfield, whereby the ‘found’ photograph or text functions as a key component of the image in content as well as form. In Beuys’s case the photographs or texts often refer to scientific or ecological concerns, using clippings taken from sections of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
(Temkin and Rose 1993, p.41.)
Collage is central to many of Beuys’s drawings (see for example Brightly-Lit Stag Chair 1957–71, AR00697), while his sculpture of the early 1960s such as the large-scale, multi-part Staghunt 1961 featured newspaper bundles tied with Braunkreuz-painted string crosses. The artist referred to these components as ‘batteries’, echoing the painted forms and newspaper headlines of Untitled 1963–4. Another Braunkreuz collage in ARTIST ROOMS is Battery 1959 (AR00110).
Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1979.
Anne Seymour, ‘The Drawings of Joseph Beuys’, in Joseph Beuys Drawings, exhibition catalogue, City Art Galleries, Leeds 1983, pp.7–26.
Ann Temkin and Bernice Rose (eds.), Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1993, pp.38–41.
- Acc. No. AR00660
- Medium 4 works on printed paper, oil paint
- Size 29.2 cm x 40.7 cm
- Credit ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Joseph Beuys (German, 1921 - 1986)
German artist Beuys believed that art was integral to everyday life. His own art was shaped by an experience early in his life. As a Luftwaffe pilot during the war, Beuys was shot down over the Crimea and was saved by nomadic Tartars. Barely alive, he was wrapped in felt and fat which preserved his body heat, and taken to safety on sledges pulled by dogs. This incident, and these particular elements, informed much of his art, which has a redemptive, mystical and ritualistic character. Central to his work were his 'Actions', which involved teaching, audience discussion and performance. The recurrent themes were social and political. Associated with the ecological movement - he was a founder member of the Green Party - he also had a strong influence on German politics.
Works in which the actions of the artist constitute the art. Artists have used performance techniques throughout the 20th century but the term is usually applied to works from the 1960s onwards.