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For Siberian Symphony (1962) is an oil and watercolour work on paper by the German artist Joseph Beuys that relates to his live action Siberian Symphony, First Movement, performed by the artist in February 1963 at the Düsseldorf Art Academy where Beuys was Professor of Monumental Sculpture. The drawing is on pale brown packing paper which has a torn right edge and a very irregular bottom edge. The oil paint used for parts of the drawing has soaked through, making the paper support appear transparent in places, as well as staining the outer edges of the paper a dark brown colour. The watercolour used for the remainder of the drawing is darker and redder in colour in comparison to the more yellow oil paint, which has left a greasy residue around its lines and forms. The brown paper had previously been folded in two places, where the two horizontal lines of the composition are located. At the top of this structure there is a silhouetted figure of what appears to be a hare, Beuys’s totem animal. In Siberian Symphony a dead hare was tied up and hung from a blackboard upon which the artist wrote sentences throughout the action. The other main element is the large shape near the bottom of the composition, which is the rough silhouette of a grand piano with its lid raised. The symphony action included a piano composition by the artist, which incorporated elements and harmonies of works by avant-garde composer Erik Satie (1866–1925). At the right side of the drawing is a wavering, disjointed vertical line that contains three circular blobs of paint: this signifies the electrical wires and pine twigs that connected lumps of clay in a system that linked the piano to the hare within the tableau of Siberian Symphony.
Siberian Symphony, First Movement was one of Beuys’s earliest forays into the arena of live performance, having spent most of the previous decade working on his drawings and the development of his sculptural practice. The art historian Ulf Jensen has explained the genesis of this event:
He opened up the state-run Kunstakademie to his friends and like-minded artists, organising the avant-garde music festival FESTUM FLUXORUM FLUXUS, MUSIK UND ANTIMUSIK – DAS INSTRUMENTELLE THEATER in February 1963. He himself performed his first two actions at this festival. Observers noted that his Sibirische Symphonie 1. Satz (Siberian Symphony, First Movement) was based on a different notion of the relationship between space and time than his colleagues performances.
(Ulf Jensen in Ackermann and Malz 2010, p.148.)
This final comment points to the conceptual differences between Beuys and the artists associated with Fluxus, who disagreed with the dramatic, theatrical tone of Beuys’s action, preferring a more socially-orientated, participatory form of performance. The curator Ann Temkin has outlined the links between the artist’s drawing and performance works, writing:
Beuys’s … actual performance activity … began in earnest in 1963 with the ‘Festum Fluxorum Fluxus’ at the Düsseldorf Academy … the drawings for Siberian Symphony, performed on the second night of the festival, closely relate to the narrative imagery of the 1950s. Many descriptively illustrate the performance and are painted in Braunkreuz, which remains an important medium for the objects Beuys used during actions as well as in his Partituren [scores]. As his work with Fluxus continued, however, Beuys’s drawings became more concerned with sound and words than with picturing the action.
(Temkin and Rose 1993, p.52.)
As Temkin claims, the imagery and stylistic approach of For Siberian Symphony is indeed connected to Beuys’s drawing output of the previous decade. Works on paper such as Actress (1956), Clan (1958) and Untitled (1958) share with this drawing the same loose handling of painterly washes, the same earth-toned colour scheme, and a similar abstraction of animal and human figures. Returning to the animal in this drawing, the curator Mark Rosenthal has examined the importance of the hare in Beuys’s actions, in particular Siberian Symphony:
The Actions largely converge into groupings, each concerning a particular theme or leitmotif. One of these is innocence, particularly that of animals. In Sibirische Symphonie 1. Satz [Siberian Symphony, First Movement] (1963), Beuys tore the heart from an already dead hare. The hare is an eternal symbol of renewal and rebirth; it evokes a nomadic era honored by Beuys, when cultural divisions between the East and West did not exist. Although one could argue that Beuys was testing the hare’s powers of renewal, his performance must also be considered a reenactment of a monstrous act committed on a defenceless innocent.
(Rosenthal 2004, p.28.)
Also part of ARTIST ROOMS is Score for Siberian Symphony, a text-only collage in two parts that is dated 1966, three years after the action’s various performances in Düsseldorf in 1963. While For Siberian Symphony is a quickly-executed preparatory drawing for the first movement that was executed the year before the performance, this later score looks back on the action as a whole, reducing the complex, multi-part spectacle down to a conclusive, typed outline of compressed information with no visual referents. These two works together demonstrate the range of Beuys’s drawing practice, and its flexibility with regards to working around his performance requirements in many different guises.
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.
Mark Rosenthal, ‘Joseph Beuys: Staging Sculpture’, in Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments, exhibition catalogue, The Menil Collection 2004, pp.10–135.
Marion Ackermann and Isabelle Malz (eds.), Joseph Beuys, Parallel Processes, exhibition catalogue, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf 2010.
- Acc. No. AR00655
- Medium Oil paint and watercolour on paper
- Size 63.60 x 63.30 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.