Waddington Custot gallery in Mayfair brings context to Joseph Beuy’s famed 1972 work of art, Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie with an exhibition running now until mid August.
Artifacts such as the two pairs of boxing gloves, a protective helmet and the boxing ring ropes from Beuys’ boxing match ‘finale’ against sculptor Abraham David Christian during the original exhibition alongside photos from the event are presented in conjunction with the debut UK presentation of the re-mastered archive footage of the boxing match.
Boxing as art? Yeah, kinda. Like most of Beuys’ work, Boxkampf is heady, conceptual stuff. Here’s the heady, conceptual gist from the Waddington Custot website:
For the one hundred days of documenta 5 in Kassel, from 30 June to 8 October 1972, Beuys established an ‘Office for The Organisation for Direct Democracy’, which he manned each day and where he vigorously debated his ideas on social reform. The project was based on Beuys’ 1971 ‘Organisation für direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (freie Volksinitiative e.V.)’ (The Organisation for Direct Democracy through Referendum (Free People’s Initiative Association)) which, drawing on the theories of philosopher and social reformer, Rudolf Steiner, advocated increased political power for the individual and the goals of cultural freedom and equality. The topics of discussion at the Office were wide-ranging; including educational reform, religion, race relations, women’s rights, atomic energy, economics and the Eastern bloc. Beuys saw this act as an infiltration of the art system in order to shift its prescribed dialogues in other directions.
On 8 October, the final day of documenta 5, Beuys staged ‘Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie’ with Abraham David Christian, a Kassel art student. Christian had challenged Beuys to the fight and stood for ‘representative government’ versus Beuys’ ‘direct democracy’. The ‘Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie’ took place at the Museum Fridericianum, against a backdrop of Ben Vautier’s ‘Thinking Room’ and with a rowdy crowd of spectators in attendance. Beuys’ student, Anatol Herzfeld, refereed three rounds, after which he declared Beuys the winner, “on points for direct democracy through direct hits.”
The show’s probably one more for art geeks, avid students and actual practicing, but it’s a fascinating exhibition nonetheless and a free chance to learn about some seminal art from the 70s.
Joseph Beuys: Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie runs until 11 August 2017 at Waddington Custot, 11 Cork Street, W1S 3LT. The exhibition is free to attend. Find out more at waddingtoncustot.com.