Monday, February 16, 2009

La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi

This is the title of a full portrait phototype print of Joseph Beuys, and I remember the room where I first saw it years ago - on the end wall of a long and narrow gallery. I walked toward it, walked backward to the entrance, walked toward it again. And again. The feeling of my being approached by Beuys rather than vice versa has stayed with me. I saw it for the second time yesterday, in an ongoing exhibition of Beuys’ work at MOMA. It was not as beautifully sited, but the message is the same: We are the revolution. Beuys’ shamanistic stance and personal style bring meaning to what today, in most of his work, may seem obscure or even dated. Wall text refers to the “mythological, historical and personal relevance” of Beuys’ output, and sitting in front of five vitrines newly acquired by the museum, and surrounded by hordes of Sunday visitors, I was struck by the emptiness of those vitrines and their carefully chosen contents – the empty spaces surrounding the objects in the vitrines, and the psychological quiet that also seems to surround objects and vitrines. Nonetheless, Beuys is only as empty as your lack of imagination, and as rich and full as the symbolic and sacred worlds he refers to. Joseph Beuys: The Reader, published in 2007 by the MIT Press, was my first choice among the offerings of the Museum store on my way home.

So art is a catalyst for change, though art may be used to smother independence just as surely as it foments it. Also at MOMA, I came away from Arto Halonen’s documentary Shadow of the Holy Book, dismayed about big corporations’ complicity in the human rights violations in Turkmenistan, dismayed but not surprised at how revolutions can bring ill rather than good. Can artists be the revolution, or do the interests of global capitalism and big governments, using art for their own devious purposes, always have the upper hand? The Holy Book, by the way, is not the Bible, Koran or Torah, but the Ruhnama, a fabricated piece of propaganda supported by Daimler-Chrysler and John Deere, among other well-known corporate giants whose actions are in deliberate violation of their stated ethical standards.

And a final parting shot: judging by the checkout queue at the MOMA store, I would say that our own government missed a good bet when it deleted arts funding from the stimulus package.

some sites:
Joseph Beuys' La Rivoluzione siamo noi
The film
Update on the stimulus package

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