On October 31, 1966, Beuys tied a taxidermied hare to wooden sticks, using the dead animal as his companion in a performance, or “action,” staged in Berlin. The objects leaning against the wall were the props for his action. Beuys was known for infusing organic materials and ordinary language with symbolic meaning. Felt and fat, for example, which are materials with insulating properties, signified “spiritual warmth” for the artist.
Gallery label from Collection: 1940s—1970s, 2019
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 MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)