Archive
Joseph Beuys

Battle over Joseph Beuys collection at Moyland Castle

Widow claims artist’s reputation is being damaged

Joseph Beuys’s widow, Eva Beuys, and the couple’s children have requested the return of works of art and archive material from the Moyland Castle Museum in Bedburg-Hau, North Rhine-Westphalia. The Beuys family claims that the museum’s dealings with the works and documents has been so inadequate, both from an art historical and administrative point of view, that it is damaging the artist’s reputation. They cite copyright infringement, incorrect titles for the works and improper restoration.

The museum houses the world’s largest collection of Beuys’s art, along with around 220,000 documents in the archive, all donated by two brothers, Hans and Franz Joseph van der Grinten, who supported the artist from the 1940s onwards at a time when his work was relatively unknown. Beuys was keen for the brothers to make his work accessible to a wider public, and the Van der Grintens organised exhibitions as well as acting as patrons to the artist. They created a foundation based at Moyland Castle in 1990 to display the collection, but the Beuys family have also been disputing ownership over a number of pieces, believing that the artist gave certain works and documents to the Van der Grintens merely for temporary safekeeping. The board of the foundation rejects the Beuys family’s claims as neither “factual nor legally accurate”.

The artist’s widow—who is known to fiercely guard the legacy of her husband but is also considered an expert on his art—has complained for a long time that she has not been involved in any decisions at the museum, and there have been more general criticisms about the museum’s approach to dissemination and display. The problems have been exacerbated by the fact that Moyland has been without a director since summer 2005. The foundation has a complex set-up, jointly run by the owner of the castle along with Franz Joseph van der Grinten (Hans died in 2002) and the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which subsidises the museum to a large degree.

A report initiated by the government of North Rhine-Westphalia suggests that the collection should be relocated to Düsseldorf, the state’s capital. Eva Beuys agrees saying that she would like to set up a foundation based in Düsseldorf and include works from Moyland and her own archive in it.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 201 April 2009