Battle to save Joseph Beuys wallcovering at Landesmuseum

Debate over whether it constitutes part of the original “Block Beuys” installation


“Block Beuys”, an installation that consists of more than 280 works by Joseph Beuys which he arranged in seven rooms of the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt in Germany, is currently being renovated as part of the overall refurbishment of the museum. No one doubts the need for improved air-conditioning—the thermometer in Beuys’s “fat box” has sunken considerably, for instance—but the removal of the carpets, and in particular the removal of the worn jute wallcovering that is currently underway, have caused controversy.

An extensive debate about the textile started around two years ago, once it became public that it was to be replaced by white walls. The dispute culminated in a two-day hearing attended by 150 experts and guests in May 2008. Critics of the measures, among them the German artist Manfred Stumpf and the former arts editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, Thomas Wagner, claim the jute is an integral part of the installation that Beuys himself arranged as a “total work of art”. The option of renovating rather than removing the jute was also raised, but conservators have emphasised the limited possibilities of preserving it.

Advocates of the removal plans argue that the jute is not part of the “Block Beuys” work itself. They claim Beuys neither liked the wall covering nor the carpet and had merely accepted them as part of the rooms, opting for white walls when he had a choice at other venues.

The director of the museum, Dr Ina Busch, is determined that the renovation goes ahead, including the removal of the jute and the carpets, but with one exception—as Beuys had painted a yellow line onto the carpet in room one, it will remain in situ. If the concept of white walls is considered unsuitable when it is finished, Dr Busch has said that she is happy to return the jute or a replacement if it doesn’t survive the renovation. The Beuys estate has also agreed to the renovation plan.