Collection 1940s–1970s

Joseph Beuys. Eurasia Siberian Symphony 1963. 1966 451

Panel with chalk drawing, felt, fat, taxidermied hare, and painted poles, 6' x 7' 6 3/4" x 20" (183 x 230 x 50 cm). Gift of Frederic Clay Bartlett (by exchange). © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Curator, Ann Temkin: Eurasia was a big theme in all of Beuys' performances and art in general, in that he felt, and remember this is at the time of a divided Germany, that one of the big problems with the post-war world was the division between Asia and Europe and the split between western and eastern ways of thinking.

Beuys performed with a dead hare, a hare that for him was a symbol of an animal who linked Europe and Asia, and who could jump figuratively if not literally from one continent to the other.

And fat is obviously something which changes its form through heating and cooling. Beuys wanted sculpture to have the idea of something that has the innate potential to change. And for him that was an important metaphor for humanity. That human beings had to retain the ability to change, to transform themselves, to adapt to new situations.

As he told it, when he was in the war, he was in a Luftwaffe plane that went down in Russia and when he was saved by Tatars they wrapped him in felt and in fat to save his life. There's been debate how much that story is really true. But I think what's important is that he saw these materials as life-giving and life-preserving for him or for humanity as a whole.

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