Joseph Beuys

Show Your Wound


Not on display

Joseph Beuys 1921–1986
6 photographic negatives
Object: 1015 × 1950 × 60 mm
Purchased 2003


Show Your Wound is a photographic multiple related to an installation of the same title from 1974-5 (collection Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Münich). The multiple comprises six large photographic negatives, arranged in two columns of three, suspended between glass plates in an iron frame. Five of the negatives are photographs taken by the photographer Ute Klophaus (born 1940) of elements from the installation. Because they appear in negative form in the multiple they have the appearance of an X-ray. The sixth negative has not been exposed; Beuys painted two of his characteristic small crosses in reddish-brown paint (his Braunkreuz) next to two small holes on the negative surface.

The installation consists of sets of paired objects arranged in a stark, white room. Two old-fashioned lead-covered mortuary trolleys on wheels stand in one corner; underneath these are two zinc boxes containing fat, a thermometer and a gauze-covered test tube containing a bird’s skull. Above the stretchers are two galvanised iron boxes covered with glass and also containing fat. To the right of them, high up on the wall facing the viewer are two blackboards, each bearing the words: ‘Zeige Deine Wunde’ or ‘Show Your Wound’ written in white chalk. Two sets of paired agricultural implements are propped against the walls roughly opposite each other. At the foot of the mortuary tables, two pitchforks from which the central prongs have been removed stand on two small slate blackboards. Red cotton scarves are tied around the base of their handles. On the other side of the room, two hoe-like implements balance on their wooden handles, their metal heads propped against the wall. These are special tools for moving stones on railway lines. A red cross in a circle is stamped on the head of one; on the other it has been painted by hand. Two issues of the Italian newspaper LOTTA CONTINUA are roughly mounted in white wooden boxes and hung on the wall, beside the pitchforks. One is addressed to Bernd Klüser, the other to Jörg Schellmann, joint publishers of many Beuys multiples.

Echoing the structure of pairing in the installation, the photographs in the multiple are coupled visually and thematically. In the first row, an image of the crosses on the hoe handles, on the left, is complemented by the red crosses painted on the negative surface, on the right. In the next row, the two black-boards and their verbal exhortation, on the left, are coupled with an image of the double prongs, acting as compasses by describing semi-circles on the blackboards, on the right. In the final row, a shadowy image of the mortuary tables seen from a distance, on the left, is complemented by a close-up picture of the bird’s skull in the test tube, on the right.

The wound is a central theme in Beuys’s work, beginning with the physical and psychological wound of birth, at which the umbilical cord is cut and the infant is severed from its mother, and extending to the wounded psyche of the German people after the Second World War. He has commented: ‘And when I say “Show it! Show the wound that we have inflicted upon ourselves during the course of our development”, it is because the only way to progress and become aware of it is to show it.’ (Quoted in Borer, p.25.) This statement reflects Beuys’s concept of art as therapy, not only as a means for personal healing but in its ability to communicate ideas to a wide audience in order for social, moral, political and ecological remedies to be found. Beuys studied medicine before he turned to art and created his own symbolic language of materials linked to storing energy, protecting, containing and healing, developed as a result of his experiences serving in the German army during the War. In his work, fat, felt and iron are particularly significant materials. Beuys created a large number of multiples in various materials, believing that the reproduction of art-works in large editions would enable the widest possible distribution of ideas.

Show Your Wounds was produced in an edition of twenty-eight. Tate’s copy is the first of five hors commerce copies.

Further reading:
Jörg Schellmann, Joseph Beuys: Multiples, Catalogue Raisonné of Multiples and Prints 1965-1985, Munich 1985, reproduced [p.169] pl.161
Alain Borer and ed. Lothar Schirmer, The Essential Joseph Beuys, London 1996, reproduced pl.135 in colour
Sean Rainbird, Mark Rosenthal and Claudia Schmuckli, Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments, exhibition catalogue, Menil Collection, Houston and Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.72-4

Elizabeth Manchester
May 2005

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