Assuming the multiple roles of artist, teacher, and modern-day shaman, Beuys developed a highly personal iconography for addressing the problems haunting postwar Germany. The objects in Eurasia Siberian Symphony 1963 are props from a 1966 performance he staged in Copenhagen and Berlin. They include an armature of intersecting poles, a taxidermy hare (for Beuys, a totemic animal), triangles of fat and felt, and a blackboard marked with chalk. Among the inscriptions, the word “Eurasia,” naming the continental landmass as well as the borderless state that Beuys often invoked, appears prominently. The truncated cross above represents division between East and West; the two numbers below indicate the angles of the felt and fat triangles, and a third corresponds to the temperature of a high human fever (42˚C).
One key to deciphering the cryptic presentation is Beuys’s oft-told autobiographical narrative of being shot down in Crimea during World War II and saved by local Tatars, who wrapped his body in fat and felt, materials he subsequently associated with Eastern methods of holistic healing. Although expressed in mythical terms, the work’s themes relate to Cold War politics of division. In the work’s title, “1963” may refer to the high note of hope struck that year by US president John F. Kennedy’s address to West Berliners. Beuys may have been suggesting that healing lay in such face-to-face encounters, which were then impeded by walls both physical and ideological.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019).
Eurasia Siberian Symphony 1963 is composed from materials the artist used during a 1966 performance, or "action," in Berlin. Eurasia, the continental block that links Europe and Asia, evokes the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures, particularly resonant for Beuys in divided Cold War Germany. The hare suggests the ability to span long distances. The blackboard notes the degrees of the angles of fat and felt affixed to the poles during the performance and the temperature of a high human fever. Fat and felt are essential components of Beuys's "warmth theory" of art because of the calorie's role in the preservation of life and the insulating properties of felt.
Gallery label from From the Collection: 1960-69, March 26, 2016 - March 12, 2017.