Strategy: Get Arts - Reaction to Joseph Beuys in Scotland, 1970


January 2000

This study is an analysis of attitudes and reaction to Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) and his work during his visits to Scotland, focusing primarily but not exclusively on the year 1970. In this year Beuys presented three works at an exhibition of thirty-five other Düsseldorf-based artists  with the title — as palindrome — of Strategy: Get Arts (SGA) which was held at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). Beuys’ contribution consisted of Arena (1970), Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony (CKRSS) (1970) [Plate 1.0] and The Pack (1969) [Plates 2.0 and 3.0].  Arena consisted of several hundred framed photographs of Beuys’ activities up to that date: a life and work documentation.  The Pack — a complex tableau consisting of an as­semblage of ready-made objects (a Volkswagen camper van, sledges, rolls of felt, fat and torches) — had been conceived the previous year and had been transported to Edinburgh, complete, and installed in situ.  By contrast,  CKRSS was a performance ‘action’ involving Beuys himself as principal ‘actor’. A film — made by Mark Littlewood and Rory McEwan, consisting of footage of Beuys on Rannoch Moor in which he buries a lump of margarine in a peat bog — was accompanied by music by the composer Henning Christiansen

Between 1970 and 1982 Beuys made a total of eight visits to Scotland. All of these visits were at the request and invitation of Richard Demarco.  Beuys made two visits to Scotland in 1970; the first in May to undertake preparatory work for the exhibition; and the second as part of a large group of artists invited under the auspices of the Richard Demarco Gallery to take part in SGA

In order to examine the very differing and polarised attitudes and reactions to Beuys and his work during the first years of his visits to Scotland, it is important to understand two things: firstly, the specific artistic, cultural and social context from which Beuys and the other artists were emerging; and secondly, the general cultural and artistic climate of Edinburgh during the 1960s and 1970s.