Beuys and Duisburg
His last speech
His last speech
It’s impossible to avoid Wilhelm Lehmbruck and the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg when walking in the tracks of Beuys. While the two artists were no contemporaries, Lehmbruck’s works essentially influenced Beuys and inspired him to deal with the subject of sculpture. A detour to Duisburg’s inner city is worth the effort, disclosing not only exciting stories on Beuys but also providing some rewarding locations for breaks, such as the Kantpark or inner harbour.
Located centrally in the inner city of Duisburg, the Lehmbruck Museum is a place of sculptures. Its namesake, sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck, was born in Meiderich, now a quarter of Duisburg, in 1881 and died at the age of only 38 in 1919. Along with Ernst Barlach, he is deemed the most important German sculptor of classical modernism. The impressive museum building is located in the Kantpark sculpture park, where art can be experienced up close in about 40 large sculptures by important artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Tony Cragg, Henry Moore, and Meret Oppenheim.
Just a few days before his death, on 12 January 1986, Joseph Beuys gave his last speech at the Lehmbruck Museum. Thanking his “teacher” Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Beuys called his works pioneering. He had come across a photograph of Lehmbruck’s sculptures during his studies, finding it to virtually call out to him: “Everything is sculpture!”. That was when Beuys started working with sculptures.
The park around the museum offers a place to linger, inviting visitors to relax on the playgrounds, in the flower gardens, and in the café among the sculptures. The Duisburg inner harbour, quick to reach from there by bike, also reflects some of Beuys’ works.
“If you don’t want to think, you’ll disqualify [yourself].” This quote by Joseph Beuys reflects the central thought he had for his work. It also broadens the view for the “Elferraum” in the Museum Küppersmühle. Eleven drawn sheep’s heads, some with and others without a “spiritual centre”, dominate the space dedicated solely to Beuys. The museum of modern art impresses with its distinctive architecture between industrial monument and white cube. Swiss star architects Herzog & de Meuron transformed the former warehouse building with its listed brick façade into a modern cultural building until 1999. It is now being enlarged, to be reopened in the autumn of 2021. Museum Küppersmühle forms the end of Duisburg’s inner harbour, which offers plenty of reasons to linger and stroll down its streets with restaurants, cafés, modern and historical architecture, and many opportunities to sit along the water. In the anniversary year, some individual works by Joseph Beuys are temporarily on loan to other museums.
The Ruhrort harbour district right on the Rhine is quick to reach by bike from the inner harbour. The sculptures “Echo des Poseidon” by Markus Lüpertz and “Rheinorange” by Lutz Fritsch can be found there, at the entrance to Europe’s largest inland port. One is a five-metre-high bust of the Greek god gazing westwards across the Rhine and the other a distinctive 25-metre-high steel stele painted a bright orange. They are visible particularly well from a ship on a harbour tour.