With a selection of more than 100 multiples, the exhibition I am Sender. I Transmit at the Pinakothek der Moderne provided a whole new way to contextualize Joseph Beuys' oeuvre. Beginning in the 1960s, Beuys produced a wide variety of multiples across different media with the aim to share his artistic vision with as wide an audience as possible. He considered himself the "sender" and his multiples the "antennas". fineartmultiple caught up with Dr. Corinna Thierolf, Curator of Post-war art at the Pinakothek der Moderne, to chat about the central role that multiples play in Beuys' work, the way his "democratization of art" raises questions of authorship and originality that are still relevant today, and the manner in which the Munich exhibition tackled these issues.  

How does "I am Sender" differ from past Beuys exhibitions?

Joseph Beuys has created a wealth of extraordinarily diverse works. Therefore, each exhibition can only elaborate on particular aspects of his art. In the Pinakothek's exhibition, the focus is on multiples – an art form that has become increasingly important since the 1960s. Beuys had a significant influence on its development. His goal was to produce artworks as inexpensive, multiplied objects.  This affords a lot more people direct access to his works, ultimately fusing art with daily life. Because of the way it has been produced, each multiple constitutes a "Sender", as Beuys called it, of his artistic vision.   In essence, the more than 500 multiples produced between 1965 and 1986 are an encyclopaedia of his creative universe. From the approximately 300 objects in our collection we have selected roughly 100 multiples in order to highlight the diversity of materials, their function as a vessel for new ideas, and their role in the financial and ideological support for other projects.

Have there been any works to which visitors have responded in particular, or which left an unusually profound impression on them, and was this in line with your expectations?

The multiples were produced in editions of at least five objects. Some of them could potentially be produced endlessly. However, few buyers would have acquired more than a single piece. Because of this, the works create the impression of unique specimens, presented as one-of-a-kind icons behind glass for reasons of preservation. In one of the exhibition rooms, we have focused on the repetitive nature of the editioned objects by displaying several samples next to one another. To the astonishment of many visitors, the works appearance often varies slightly from one work to the next. Although the multiples were serially, quasi-industrially produced, Beuys would nevertheless add individual touches on particular occasions. There are subtle variations in material, how they have been cut out, in the signature, or in any other of the artist’s trademarks. Aside from these initial variations, marks left by subsequent handlers can also be observed. It is with these subtle changes that it becomes apparent whether the object had been used as Beuys had undoubtedly envisioned – for instance by being displayed in the kitchen where it would always provoke new discussion – or whether it was protectively placed in a drawer, so that we see it in its untarnished original state today.

Conventionally, artworks are regarded as unique objects. In the case of multiples, we encounter several identical objects, none of which are regarded as copies. Instead, each one of them constitutes an original artwork intended for individual use, rather than for collective display in a museum. As a curator, which problems or challenges did you encounter and how did you deal with Beuys' artistic legacy, transferring these works to the museum?

We enjoyed tackling these issues, which are also central themes running throughout 20th and 21st century art. On the one hand, Beuys strove for a seamless union between art and life. On the other hand, it is our responsibility as a museum to preserve his works to the best of our ability for future generations. We therefore must display the multiples adhering to international museological standards such as protecting them behind glass display cabinets where we are able to regulate exposure to light, etc. However, in order to do justice to the multiples' essential concepts, we only implement such protective measures if absolutely necessary. Additionally, both exhibition curators, Luke Smythe and Maja Wismer, have created an informational website on some 50 representative multiples. So, in essence, today's modern technology makes it possible to uphold Beuys' objective of communicating across national, linguistic and cultural borders with his multiples. The intercultural exchange between them, the transatlantic research project, was part of what the exhibition is based on. The Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich found a partner in the Harvard Art Museum in Cambridge, MA, which houses an equally sizable Beuys collection. As part of our cooperation, German-speaking Swiss, Maja Wismer, worked stateside with the multiples while keeping in touch with the Anglophone Luke Smythe, from New Zealand, over Skype. This cooperation has made linguistic and cultural advancements possible. It is thrilling to see how a new generation of young researchers are dealing with the theme of Beuys through collaboration. Staying true to an artist who tackles the wounds of German history and questions entrenched points of view in an extraordinarily refreshing way. Additional information on multiples, the exhibition's "making of" and the works on display can be found at: pinakothek-beuys-multiples.de/

fineartmultiple would like to thank Dr. Corinna Thierolf and the Pinakothek der Moderne for making this interview possible.


—Nausikaä El-Mecky