Joseph Beuys and Richard Demarco

Publication: The Times 
October 2016

Joseph Beuys and Richard Demarco
Edinburgh College

A number of the annotated images in this suite of photographically-derived prints, which chart a 16-year collaborative friendship between Joseph Beuys (1921-86) and Richard Demarco, show the installation of Beuys’ sculptural installation Das Rüdel, (The Pack). The occasion was the exhibition ‘Strategy: Get Arts’ (a palindrome) at Edinburgh College of Art, in 1970. Beuys, and thirty-five  other Düsseldorf-based artists, had taken over the rather austere and traditional art school with a series of interventions, installations, events, happenings, performances, ‘living’ sculpture, radical painting and much else besides. These artists  were influenced by Dada and Surrealism and in particular, and several were members of the Fluxus art movement. Beuys was perhaps the best known of this collection of European avant-gardists, although this was his first showing in the Anglophone world. The college authorities had designated his installation (a VW bus, with attendant sleds, torches, blankets and lumps of fat) not as sculpture but as a motor vehicle. Accordingly, it was not permitted to be displayed in the main sculpture court of ECA, but instead was bumped into a corridor in the sculpture department. It is entirely fitting, therefore, that these images should take a prominent position in the art department of this college; these, along with scores of others, are hung in corridors. This is a quite deliberate act on the part of Demarco the college, who recognise that corridors are often viewed as ‘non-spaces’ and usually not fitting venues for the showing of art. They are in fact places of movement, transience and intersection, full of energy. People linger there for conversation and observation. Perhaps most importantly, these are not intimidatory spaces, but are owned by all of us. Demarco’s vision, here and elsewhere, can be described both as exhibition and ‘pedagogical event’. Each of the mainly black and white prints has been carefully annotated in pencil, from memory and in great detail, recalling events and people from decades past. The words offer up a commentary or a shared vision.   Mercifully few of these are of the ‘private-view-sipping-wine’ type, but show Beuys at work, in the landscape, in discussion: earnest, passionate, alive. He was the artist-teacher par excellence, a quality he shared with one of his most important peers, Demarco. Each of these often grainy, unfocussed shots tells a story, full of detail, background and context. It might be Beuys running across Rannoch Moor or in his flat in Düsseldorf, preparing a meal for his family and guests, among whom is the late George Wyllie. Other images reveal the Black and White Oil Conference in Edinburgh’s Poorhouse, in 1974, where Beuys lectured in the company of the engineer and architect, Buckminster Fuller. Demarco’s photographic archive is vast — estimates run between 1 and 2 million items. Here, this carefully selected grouping concentrates on a collaboration between peers, demonstrating Demarco’s maxim that ‘art is made in the meeting of friends’.