‘Bud and bloom are in fact green leaves transformed. So in relation to the leaves and the stem, the bloom is a revolution, although it grows through organic transformation and evolution’ – J. Beuys
‘In the future all truly political intentions will have to be artistic ones. This means that they will have to stem from human creativity and individual freedom’ – J. Beuys
Created as part of a major action that Joseph Beuys undertook at Documenta V, Zeitpunkt: Das Massaker von Muenchen (Point of time: The Massacre of Munich) is a highly important work made in the autumn of 1972 in direct response to one of the most traumatic, disturbing and historic moments in post-War German history.
On 4 September 1972, at the Olympic Games then being held in Munich, a Palestinian terror group calling themselves ‘Black September’ shocked the world when it attacked and held hostage eleven Israeli athletes in a dramatic violation of the free and open spirit of the games. After a brief siege during which the terrorists demanded the release of Red Army Faction group leaders Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, then held in a German jail, a bungled ambush by German police led to a massacre in which all the hostages and most of the terrorists were killed.
While these violent events were taking place, 300 miles away in Kassel at the Documenta curated by Harald Szeemann, Germany’s leading artist Joseph Beuys was drawing and lecturing in an office he had built within the international exhibition space. Entitled ‘Office for the Organization of Direct Democracy through Referendum’, its purpose was to propose a radical non-violent revolution through the power of human creativity. Seated behind a red rose that symbolised his belief in a peaceful path to revolutionary political change, Beuys was making use of the Documenta platform to expound his theory of ‘social sculpture’ as a viable force for change in the world before an often sceptical, bewildered and sometimes vociferous audience. In the immediate aftermath of the Munich massacre Beuys continued to argue his case as a necessary and direct counter to the kind of violent transformation of society then being demanded by terrorist groups like ‘Black September’ and the Baader-Meinhof radicals. Zeitpunkt: Das Massaker von Muenchen is one of a rare and highly important group of works made by Beuys at this time that directly reference and respond to the recent massacre and the public’s widespread concern with the actions of the Baader-Meinhof group and other terrorists. Created as a part of his Documenta V action and underscored ‘Zeitpunkt: das Massaker von München’, this blackboard is an historic artwork that both derives from and articulates the interactive discussion that Beuys had with the Kassel audience during this extraordinarily dramatic and critical period in modern German history.
Beuys saw his drawings, and blackboard drawings like this work in particular, as sculpture. ‘If there is now a kind of necessity to draw,’ Beuys said, ‘it is about structures, like they are on blackboards, sometimes written sentences, ideas, sometimes a symbol of forms, a little form ... Any blackboard which exists is done in a kind of performance or dialogue with many people ... The drawing I do principally in public constellation, never when I am alone. I never work with a blackboard with me alone’ (J. Beuys, quoted in ‘Interview with Bernice Rose’, 1984, in B. Rose, ‘Joseph Beuys and the Language of Drawing’, in A. Temkin (ed.), Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys, exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1993, p. 108).
Created in direct collaboration with his audience, while he spoke, lectured and engaged with them, Beuys’ blackboards are the culmination of his concept of drawing as a translation of thought into form. Calling them ‘monuments’ of his ‘method,’ the blackboards’ fusion of action, thought, word and image into one educational entity crystallised Beuys’ ideal of using the creative nature of humanity as a catalyst for socio-political change. In addition, as graphic responses to the pulse of the artist’s intercommunication with his audience, Beuys’ blackboards are also a concrete demonstration of the transmitting of such ideas in the space and time of the immediate present. In their lack of permanence, their capability to be erased and reused, and their extreme familiarity to everyone as a pedagogical device, they are therefore both demonstrations and powerful symbols of the means and the power of communication as a creative, constructive and, in this case, also combative energy.
Beuys’ ‘Office for the Organization of Direct Democracy through Referendum’ was begun in Düsseldorf in 1971 and transferred to Documenta V for its duration between June and October 1972. The Documenta office was a complete replica of Beuys’ Düsseldorf bureau and contained the same dispensary documents outlining his plans for socio-political reform. In addition its walls were emblazoned with a series of neon title-signs that proclaimed the message of ‘direct democracy through referendum’. Beuys operated from behind a desk on which a fresh red rose was placed each morning. This was ‘the red rose of democracy’ - Beuys’ symbol of peaceful revolution. The rose – a manifestation of nature’s transformatory powers – was a symbol of the potential for human society, through the harnessing of a marriage between nature and science (here symbolised by the measuring jar), to pass through a similarly natural, non-violent, transformation/revolution. Around the office, at any given time, and serving as expressions of and illustrations for this philosophy were several blackboard drawings – ‘monuments’ of earlier discussions that Beuys had had with visitors on the subject of effecting meaningful political change in Germany. The roots of Beuys’ socio-political philosophy, as with his use of blackboard drawings as a means of articulating and giving form to his ideas, lay largely in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and the Austrian philosopher’s socio-ecological concept of a threefold commonwealth.
Zeitpunkt: Das Massaker von Muenchen is one of a rare and famous group of blackboard drawings produced as a part of this hundred-day-long action that grew directly out of discussions about the role of ‘direct democracy’ in the face of the renewed terrorist threat posed by the September massacre in Munich. The other most notable examples include Beuys’ work entitled Without Roses we cannot do it, in which he addressed the German state’s recent slating of Heinrich Böll after the writer publicly pleaded for reason and sensitivity in the treatment of Ulrike Meinhof, and Beuys’s famous placards bearing the words, ‘Dürer: I will personally lead Baader + Meinhof through Documenta 5’. This statement was a direct quotation of what Beuys had said during a discussion about the Red Army Faction to the Hamburg artist, Thomas Pieter, who had been touring the Documenta dressed as Albrecht Dürer. Beuys’ offer to guide Baader and Meinhof through the Documenta was a sincere gesture of welcome that reflected his belief in countering the Baader-Meinhof group’s inhumane actions with humane actions of his own and as a way of ‘resocialising’ them. Two placards bearing this, at the time, highly contentious, statement were subsequently made up by Pieter for use at the exhibition. Later Beuys turned these same placards into a work of his own by placing each of them into fat-filled felt slippers of the kind used to protect museums from damage by visitors. The slippers were jammed up against the wall to indicate a dead end and the need for a change of direction.
In keeping with the spirit of reconciliation and healing advocated in Beuys’ gesture towards the Baader-Meinhof terrorists, Zeitpunkt: Das Massaker von Muenchen) illustrates the effects of an act of murder such as the Munich massacre on society and upon individual freedom in the form of a Steiner-esque diagram. As films and photographs of Beuys’ Documenta V action also attest, for a long time this blackboard was situated directly behind Beuys’ desk as a kind of symbol of the violent times in which they were living and of the urgent need for a new way forward.
As Beuys said in his program for the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum: ‘In the future all truly political intentions will have to be artistic ones. This means that they will have to stem from human creativity and individual freedom. This is why I concern myself mainly with the problem of schools, with pedagogy. But mine is a model of freedom that must be understood as revolutionary. It is a model that issues from human thinking and the education of man in this sphere of freedom … this cultural sector, of which the institutions, the means of information are part … here would be free press, free TV, and so on. They must be free from all state intervention. I am trying to develop a revolutionary model that formulates the basic democratic order in accordance with the people’s wishes, because we want the rule of the people … I want an area of freedom, which should be recognized as the area that breeds revolution, that changes the basic democratic order and then restructures the economic sector in a way that will serve people’s needs and not the needs of a minority that wants to make profits. That is the connection, and this I define as Art’ (J. Beuys, quoted in G. Adriani, W. Konnertz, K. Thomas, Joseph Beuys, Cologne 1973, p. 163).