Beuys and Mönchengladbach
Place of sensational art campaigns
Place of sensational art campaigns
Dressed in a fishing vest, with a cigarette in his mouth and his eyes focused on something in the distance: this is how Joseph Beuys can still be seen in Mönchengladbach today by anyone who raises their eyes to the gigantic mural on the building façade at Johann-Peter-Boelling-Platz. The green city on the Lower Rhine is the place where the artist celebrated great success with his first comprehensive exhibition, organised in the former museum on Bismarckstraße in 1967. This is where he built his friendship with Hans Hollein, the internationally renowned architect of the Museum Abteiberg, who is depicted by his side in the mural. In the course of the years, Beuys greatly influenced the local art scene with his provocative campaigns in the city centre and created a media echo wherever he could.
The St. Vitus basilica on the Abteiberg is one of the sites associated with him, and a starting point for day tours to relevant testimonies and pieces of art today. During his “peace celebration” campaign on 31 March 1972 (Good Friday), Beuys wrote the word “Exit” onto the cathedral’s west portal with a sponge soaked in vinegar before breaking some pyrite. Preceding this, he had sung a chant by Friedrich Hölderlin with students and friends and read excerpts from Plato’s dialogues, Montesquieu’s “L’esprit des lois” and the Gospel of John. His outdoor liturgy aimed to criticise the church as an institution but was difficult for bystanders without any background knowledge to follow.
The writing on the gate remains visible to those taking a tour of the Abteiberg even today, as it was subsequently carved into the wood by an unknown person. The idyllic abbey garden, just a few metres away from the cathedral, is worth a visit, too. Several sculptures by renowned sculptors are waiting there on the green spaces to be discovered. Among them is the “King’s Chair” made of steel plates, produced by Beuys’ master student and companion Anatol Herzfeld.
Joseph Beuys caused another scandal in Mönchengladbach when he left the opening ceremony of the Museum Abteiberg in 1982 to spray-paint the sentence “Haus Zoar must stay” on a wall across from the location on Abteistraße. At the time, the autonomous youth centre Haus Zoar was to be demolished. Yells of protest from the teens echoed through the exhibition halls from outside, prompting the man in the hat to break protocol and stand up for their cause.
Although the words were quickly painted over after the opening night, a piece of the sensational campaign is preserved as the old wall still remains in the same place. Visitors can bring the words back by way of augmented reality using the “Yona” app on their mobile phones. The city of Mönchengladbach uses this app to bring Beuys-related hotspots to new life and to share knowledge about the locations.
Upon finally entering the Museum Abteiberg and looking for works by Joseph Beuys, visitors will quickly find what they are looking for in this architectural masterpiece. More than 200 objects and sculptures by Joseph Beuys are part of the institution’s collection specialising in modern and contemporary art today. Exhibits include the “Aggregat” from 1962, a two-part bronze sculpture symbolising a flow of energy, as well as the Revolutionary Piano from 1969, a redesigned musical instrument decorated with wilted roses and carnations. Referring to the German and French revolutions, it picks up the motif of desire for freedom.