Fat and felt: the binding of 2 artists in one show

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Fat and felt: the binding of 2 artists in one show

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The lifelong friendship between the artists Joseph Beuys and Paik Nam-june is a well-known story in the art scene. Paik wrote in his memoir of his first encounter with Beuys: “In the summer of 1961, I went to the gallery opening in Dusseldorf. There, a strange middle-aged man with sharp eyes called me ‘pike.’ It was the first time that my name was being called out by a stranger, and I can never forget it. One of the lucky things in my life was that I met [John] Cage before he rose to fame and that I met Beuys when he was hardly known.”
“Joseph Beuys: A Tribute to Nam June Paik” at the Columns is an exhibition that looks into the artistic connection of two of the most important artists in contemporary art history.
The exhibit, which examines their relationship from Beuys’s point of view, puts together his photographs, prints and objects that resonate strongly with Paik’s artistic themes, such as references to shamanism and the Fluxus movement.
Their friendship lasted until Beuys died in 1986. A few years after Beuys’ death, Paik held a performance of a Shamanist ritual in a Seoul gallery, in which he re-enacted Beuys’s near-death experience when his plane crashed in Mongolia during World War II.
Paik placed his hat on the ground and poured a mix of shaving cream, ketchup, and rice on it. As a gesture of bringing back Beuys’s spirit, he made a cast out of Beuys’s hat, and poured the same ingredients over it.
One of the famous episodes in the art scene concerns an incident in 1963, in which Beuys walked into Paik’s first solo exhibit in Germany and destroyed one of the pianos with an axe.
The central subject of the exhibit is Beuy’s lifelong experiments with “felt” and “fat.”
The two substances, which occur frequently in Beuys’ works, draw on an incident in which the artist says he was saved from his plane crash by a Mongol tribesman who slathered his body with butter and fat and then covered him in felt. The story was later disproved, as Beuys reportedly hallucinated it while hospitalized. Yet the fictional episode became a critical source of inspiration in the artist’s works.
The photographs in the exhibit capture a mix of still life, landscape and portraits of Beuys. They are simply bizarre, presenting an odd contrast of light focusing on objects like a pumpkin, old wine bottles, random street scenes and Beuys cutting fruit in a kitchen. It also includes “Fat Chair”, a wooden chair with a lump of solid fat sitting in it; portraits of Beuys taken by his journalist friend Werner Kruger and Beuys’ famous hand-writing of his name on a word card titled “Even when I am writing my name, I’m drawing.”


by Park Soo-mee

The exhibition of “Joseph Beuys: A Tribute to Nam June Paik” runs at The Columns through April 20. For more information call (02) 3442-6301.

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