Joseph Beuys's non-objective works on paper, in the Artist Rooms collection
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date09/03/2023
Symons, Andrew W.
This thesis is a study of non-objective works on paper by the German artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) selected from the one hundred and six original works on paper in the ARTIST ROOMS collection, owned and managed jointly by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. It investigates ways in which works on paper that do not depict objects might be interpreted. The question of non-objectivity in Beuys’s works on paper has not previously been addressed, perhaps because non-objectivity is less common in the more familiar early works, or perhaps due to the difficulty of reconciling non-objectivity with Beuys’s contention that he was not an abstract artist. I show that non-objectivity and abstraction need not be equivalent, so Beuys’s work can be regarded as concrete (non-abstract) even when it does not depict an object. Previous Beuys scholarship mostly uses iconological approaches, which are necessarily object-based; for non-objective works on paper an alternative is required. My approach is founded on identifying arenas of interpretation through detailed formal analysis of the works and critical appraisal of what Beuys said, combined with socio-political contextual analysis, comparison with other artists, and a study of the phenomenological effect of non-objectivity on the viewer. Beuys was well-read and well-connected, alert to the ideas of the past and of his own time. I examine Beuys’s non-objective works on paper in the light of Romanticism, Expressionism, Suprematism, Neo-Plasticism, art informel, and American Minimalism, concluding that while Beuys did not align himself with these movements, he did incorporate a wide range of historical and contemporary ideas into his work. Thus, this thesis offers an approach to Beuys’s non-objective works on paper through arenas of interpretation based on a distinction from abstraction, close critical attention to his works and words, the socio-political context in which he lived, resonances with the ideas of others, and the role of the viewer.