The dreamlike art of intuition

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The dreamlike art of intuition

Anthony d’Offay remembers the stark, “hypnotic presence” of the late German sculptor Joseph Beuys.
“He offered a different way of thinking about art,” says Mr. d’Offay, who, at 63, is one of Britain’s leading art dealers.
“His works are not meant to reflect conventional notions of beauty,” he says. “Nevertheless, they are provocative, have a magical presence. They raise questions.”
“The Shaman and the Stag,” an exhibit of Beuys’s work now at Kukje Gallery, brought Mr. d’Offay to Seoul. He worked closely with the sculptor as a dealer and promoter of his work for seven years, from 1979 until Beuys’s death in 1986.
At one time, a modern art museum could not call its collection serious unless it had at least one of Beuys’s pieces.
That may help explain the success of his last show in Seoul, in 1996 at the same gallery. At that time, the Ho-Am Museum bought an installation consisting of a grand piano the artist had used once in a performance.
All pieces are for sale at the current show, which features an exhaustive collection of the artist’s work from the 1950s to the 1980s. Included is “Scala Napoletana,” an upright wooden ladder supported by a thin wire weighted with two lead spheres. Mr. d’Offay completed it four weeks before his death.
Art historians consider Beuys a key figure in art’s evolution in the second half of the 20th century. He developed the notion of intuition as a higher form of reasoning. His use of non-traditional materials, such as felt and beef fat, often grew out of his World War II experience. While a pilot for the German air force, Beuys crashed in the Crimean Peninsula; nomadic Tartars who rescued him rubbed fat over his body and wrapped him in felt to warm him.
The intuition of an artist was one of Beuys’s central concerns, which is one reason his artistic work was often complemented with his parallel role as a modern-day shaman. He actually staged shamanic rituals for some performances.
In the ’60s, Beuys became involved in the Fluxus movement, and began to participate in live, improvised performances with artists like John Cage and Paik Nam-june. For Beuys’s 1996 show, the gallery organizer invited a female shaman to the opening night.
Beuys’s efforts to communicate with his audience show attempts to juggle intuition with reason. Consider a postcard in which he wrote, “Those who do not wish to think, get out.”
While his works embrace introspection, they are also highly conceptual, aimed at challenging basic social structure.
“His images have a dreamlike quality,” Mr. d’Offay says. “Figures in his drawings seem neither masculine nor feminine.
“They almost feel like a private drawing for himself. They are intensely personal. They are autobiographical, but without being narcissistic.”
A University of Edinburgh graduate, Mr. d’Offay opened his first gallery in 1965 on Vigo Street in London’s Piccadilly. In the 1970s, he began representing living British artists, and went on to establish himself in London as a key organizer of “star exhibitions.” He closed his gallery two years ago, and has worked closely with museums ever since.

by Park Soo-mee

“Joseph Beuys: The Shaman and the Stag” continues at Kukje Gallery through Nov. 14. The closest subway stop is the Anguk station on line No. 3; the gallery’s Web site,, has an English-language option.
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