Felt Suit 1970 is a two-piece suit comprising a jacket and a pair of trousers made from coarse grey felt. It is number seventy-seven in an edition of one hundred identical suits, all produced in the same year by the German artist Joseph Beuys. The artist has stated that work can be displayed in any way, although it is usually shown hanging from a wooden coat hanger. The jacket has lapels and three pockets – one on each side of its lower portion and one right breast pocket – and the trousers feature belt loops. There is no lining inside the jacket, nor does it have any buttons, and the seams are machine-woven with grey cotton thread. All of the suits in the edition feature a label on the inside bearing a stamp and the edition number of the work. Another edition of Felt Suit is held in the main Tate collection (Tate T07441).
This work was made by Beuys in 1970, when he was primarily living and working in Düsseldorf, Germany, and the edition was issued by Galerie René Block in Berlin that same year. Beuys commonly wore clothing made from felt throughout his career and in an interview conducted in the year that this work was made he stated that it was ‘tailored after my own suit’ (Beuys in Schnellman and Klüsser 1980, unpaginated). It is not clear exactly how the one hundred suits in the edition were created, nor whether the resulting objects are identical to Beuys’s original garment. However, discussing this work in 1970 Beuys stated that ‘felt is … pressed together usually from hare or rabbit’s hair’, suggesting that one of these may be the material used here (Beuys in Schnellman and Klüsser 1980, unpaginated). When asked in the same interview how he would like the work to be displayed, Beuys answered: ‘I don’t give a damn. You can nail the suit to the wall. You can also hang it on a hanger, ad libitum! But you can also wear it or throw it into a chest’ (Beuys in Schnellman and Klüsser 1980, unpaginated). During his career Beuys produced several other works that can be displayed in multiple ways, such as The End of the Twentieth Century 1983–5 (Tate T05855).
The simple, descriptive title of this work emphasises the material used and indicates that the object is a suit – something that usually has an everyday, practical function rather than a creative one. Despite Beuys’s statement that the suit could be worn as a means of displaying it, in the same interview he said that doing so would be impractical since ‘in a relatively short time it’ll lose its shape because felt is not a material which holds its form’ (Beuys in Schnellman and Klüsser 1980, unpaginated). Nonetheless, in producing this work that could serve as a functional object, Beuys may have been questioning the traditional separation between fine art and domestic items. He stated further that when making works which seem to be everyday objects, he hoped that viewers might ‘realize that everyone is an artist, because, many people will ask themselves: “Why don’t I make something like that, something similar.” The sentence “Everybody is an artist” simply means to point out that the human being is a creative being, that he is a creator, and what’s more, that he can be productive in a great many different ways. To me, it’s irrelevant whether a product comes from a painter, from a sculptor or from a physicist.’ (Beuys in Schnellman and Klüsser 1980, unpaginated.)
Between 1965 and 1986 Beuys created over five hundred sets of ‘multiples’ or editioned works. In 1970 he stated that he worked in this way because he was ‘interested in spreading ideas’ and multiples allowed him to reach ‘a larger number of people’ (Beuys in Schnellman and Klüsser 1980, unpaginated).
Beuys frequently used felt in his work, including in sculptures (see, for instance, Homogeneous Infiltration for Piano 1966, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), installations (such as The Pack 1969, Neue Galerie, Kassel) and performances (see, for example, Felt TV 1970). He associated felt with the production of ‘warmth’ and sometimes referred to object-based works involving the material as ‘warmth sculptures’ (quoted in Schnellman and Klüsser 1980, unpaginated). In 1979 he wrote that he was interested in producing sculptures that emphasise ongoing processes (such as insulation) rather than fixed states because he wanted to show that ‘Everything is in a state of change’, an idea that he linked with the concept of ‘social sculpture’, or ‘how we mold and shape the world in which we live: sculpture as an evolutionary process’ (Joseph Beuys, ‘Introduction’, in Carin Kuoni, Energy Plan for the Western Man: Joseph Beuys in America, New York 1990, p.19).
Jörg Schnellman and Bernd Klüsser, Joseph Beuys: Multiples, 5th edn, Berlin 1980, unpaginated, reproduced.
Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments, exhibition catalogue, Menil Collection, Houston 2004, p.216, reproduced p.44.
Claudia Mesch and Viola Michely, Joseph Beuys: The Reader, London 2007.
Supported by Christie’s.