20 Sep Franz van der Grinten
Left: Joseph Beuys ©Peter Sevriens, right: Franz van der Grinten (in an art work by Marcus Neufanger)
The diverse inspirational stimuli of Joseph Beuys
How a fashion shoot at Moyland Castle uncovered previously unpublished Beuys photographs and created a very special exhibition …
A conversation with Franz van der Grinten
Cologne. As a board member of Stiftung Museum Schloss Moyland, which houses the worldwide largest collection of Beuys works within the van der Grinten Collection, Franz van der Grinten, who is part of that family, is often consulted in the long-standing, contentious matters of dealing with the copyright to the images of Beuys and his works.
However, the fact that an idea for an exhibition for his gallery would develop in connection with the copyright clarification needed for a fashion shoot in the park of Moyland Castle, was precipitated by unexpected events coming together. In addition, this idea was influenced by confronting his memories of childhood encounters with the iconic artist.
But let us start at the beginning ……
During the month that was to change all our lives – March 2020 – the Spiegel Magazine was published under the title “Naturalismus. Wie die Sehnsucht nach der Natur unser Leben bestimmt “(Naturalism: How longing for nature determines our life).
1 Bianca Lang-Bognár, S-Magazin, March 2020 edition
Cover S-Magazin, March 2020 edition
At that time interpreted as “Kontrapunkt zu unserem künstlich verdichtetem Alltag “1(Counterpoint to our artificially condensed everyday life), the central topics were fashion and lifestyle. To now include Beuys, of all people, into this consideration would prove to be a stimulating idea in many ways. In our conversation, Franz van der Grinten explains this to me and how a network was created for the photography exhibition planned for January 2021 – in time for the start of the year that would be the centenary of possibly the most important German post-war artist.
We meet in his gallery situated in the beautiful, historically significant Bel Étage of a complex of late-classical townhouses in the town centre of Cologne.
Installation views in the Gallery van der Grinten. Left: Rebecca Stevenson, above: Peter Nikolaus Heikenwälder, below: Christoph Knecht
E.B.: The distinctive fashion photos of the Spiegel article have been complemented not only by a tribute to Beuys “Stempelungen“, which he started to apply to his documents and objects from the sixties onwards (see illustrations below), but also by a contribution written by you. In addition to the explanation which compelling connection his artistic work form to nature and the country side, you speak about the special and lasting influence Beuys had on you during your childhood. Lasting insofar as he also influenced your gallery work. How does his repeatedly publicized artistic idea of freedom fit into the commercial direction of a gallery?
Illustrations: ©Jamal Buscher
Van der Grinten: It is interesting that I became aware of the strong influence he exerted on me and my gallery work for the first time when drafting the text. I would like to talk about that in a bit more detail. My personal memories start at the age of six. Beuys visited my parents on a regular basis, who, together with my uncle, were his first collectors and patrons. From the early seventies, they prepared his first international exhibitions; together with him, they selected the art from their continuously growing private collection and critically monitored the contents. Between all this, Beuys always found time for us children. I had a natural history collection: Insects, recreated aviaries, dried plants. He was able to explain relationships and tell stories in respect of almost every object. His curiosity and his holistic idea to show the various relationships and dependences of science, nature, humanism and society were incredibly inspiring. His approach to imparting knowledge was always directed towards grappling critically and reflectively with matters, in order to then be able to intervene creatively in the world. Where capitalist structures are concerned, he was capable of a light touch without selling himself in the process. And this is exactly what connects him to my gallery work. Being anchored to the humanities is very important to me.
E.B.: Since 2012, books, special editions, portfolios and limited collector’s editions are published by the gallery on a regular basis. Can the idea for this also be ascribed to the thought of imparting knowledge which was the common thread?
Van der Grinten: Absolutely. The books enable us to convey our gallery’s artists’ contents and to promote their fame and relevance. By offering the original works at modest cost we finance both the production of the books and also, at the same time, the entry point into the collection of contemporary art. A model that may be interpreted as one inspired by Beuys. He too produced all his projects independently, without any subsidies and, with his multiples, enabled entry-level art collectors to start collecting art. A maximally democratic idea.
Talk with Franz van der Grinten
E.B.: Speaking of the democratic idea: How does this principle fit with the problematic handling of the rights of reproduction relating to him and his work? Is this not a contradiction?
Van der Grinten: This does indeed completely contradict Beuys‘ principle. While he allowed everything, provided it initiated a new discussion, the prohibition of reproduction lead to a complete under-representation of his work. The presence of his Œuvres is therefore not enough in the public eye, cultural history is removed from the public and academia, and is privatised. Within the context of my voluntary work for the Foundation I often found that, because of this, an extremely high number of projects were made unilaterally impossible. Based on copyright matters, arbitrary decisions are being made irrespective of factual arguments. Also unrelated to Beuys, such an approach, in my opinion, may not be used in a modern democratic society. Some years ago, a spectacular dispute arose between the Foundation and VG Bildkust, which, ultimately, was decided in favour of academic freedom as we understand it before the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe.
E.B.: Before this background, it is almost a miracle that you happened on unpublished photographs, some of which were even signed by Beuys, to which the copyright applies differently. How did this happen?
Portraits by Peter Sevriens, left: Grüner Prophet, J.Beuys (1981), above: Memento Mori II, Atelier J. Beuys (1981), below: Memento Mori I, Atelier J. Beuys (1981)
Van der Grinten: Indeed. To sum up, it was unbelievable how many events came together. It started with Lesley Sevriens standing in for the originally provided stylist for the shooting. As it turned out, Lesley is the daughter of the freelance artist Peter Sevriens, who, in the early eighties, within the context of a series of portraits of artists in Düsseldorf, also created one of Beuys. In this context, a series of most diverse photos were produced in his studio. When Lesley showed me one of these photographs, I was entranced by the auratic power of these images. Initially, the idea of producing an edited face mask with this Beuys motif in favour of the organisation Doctors Without Borderswas mooted – as has meanwhile happened. When dealing with the purchase of a license for the once-off exploitation of the image I met Peter Sevriens and thus had an opportunity to view the entire series. I was simply impressed! When I thought of the exhibition it was also with the idea to finally give the images a space to be seen. But that was not all….
At that time, I got a telephone call from Simone Klein. In her capacity as a long-standing, renown expert on photography, she drew my attention to a selection of works by Michael Ruetz, which also had some connection with Beuys. She strongly recommended to have a closer look at these works. I did not waste time and went to Berlin to have a look. What I then saw in Ruetz’s archive ultimately left me speechless.
Portraits by Michael Ruetz, left top down: Beuys_ Basel, 13. April 1971, Beuys_ Düsseldorf 02. April 1971, Beuys_ Düsseldorf, 22 April 1971, rechts: Beuys_ Düsseldorf, 02. April 1971; Beuys_ Düsseldorf, 17. November 1972
I found many pictures which suddenly brought back to life the most diverse family anecdotes. There were very emotional moments! To be able to present the pictures of both artists in my gallery fills me with pride and great gratitude. The works form a congenial dialogue.
E.B.: This sounds like a very personal Beuys exhibition. What is greater, the joy of being able to present him without the usual difficulties or is it more the joy of the tribute as such?
Van der Grinten: That of the tribute, absolutely. Beuys was and continues to be my most influential model.
The exhibition Im Dialog mit Joseph Beuys will be on view from 23 January to 20 March 2021 at the gallery van der Grinten, 50667 Cologne, Gertrudenstraße 29.
Further information about the gallery van der Grinten and their presented artists you find on the website: