Works by Joseph Beuys rarely have straightforward or succinct backstories, but his wall-hung vitrine piece Boxing Match for Direct Democracy (1972), a landmark work that was just acquired by the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany, has an especially elaborate one.
In 1972, Beuys was on hand for the full 100-day run of the Documenta 5 exhibition in Kassel, Germany, advocating for his Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum, which called for individuals to have greater involvement in government. At some point, it seems, Beuys got into an argument with a local art student, Abraham David Christian, and was challenged to a boxing match by him.
On October 8, the last day of Documenta, the bout was held at its central space, the Fridericianum, in a room housing Ben Vautier’s contribution to the show. MMK sets the testosterone-soaked scene:
A classical boxing ring had been set up on a low platform at the center of the room. The two opponents fought bare-chested, wearing boxing gloves. Christian also wore a leather head guard and a gumshield; Beuys remained unprotected except for the mitts. Before a large and enthusiastic crowd of spectators, he ultimately won the three-round match by scoring the most points.
The resulting Beuys work is a long, covered shelf made of zinc that holds their boxing gloves, rope from the ring, and other relics of the battle. When it was shown at Waddington Custot in London last year, the gallery noted that the referee was artist Anatol Herzfeld, a Beuys student (which—just my two cents—sounds like a conflict of interest).
MMK noted in its announcement of the acquisition that its holdings also include Beuys works like the major late piece Lightning with Stag in Its Glare (1958–85) and the print Democracy Is Funny (1973). Boxing Match for Direct Democracy will be officially unveiled at the museum this Friday.
In other news, MMK is currently hosting the first Cady Noland museum exhibition in many, many years, and the nearby Portikus space is presenting a delectable-looking Thea Djordjadze show for a few more days, so it seems like a great time to hop on a train or plane and visit beautiful Frankfurt am Main.