A particularly responsible sampling of work from the ‘70s and ‘80s by the late German philosopher/artist Joseph Beuys includes things like a vintage Coke bottle containing tea enshrined in a small wood box titled “Tea for the True Continuous Fight,” a wall hung business suit fashioned crudely from felt, a weekend attache case containing such essentials as a paperback Kant and a bottle of a popular German condiment.
Our reflex is to draw a mental line from these wry works directly to Duchamp. But Duchamp’s objects were gentlemanly riddles designed to have art mock itself. Beuys’ works, in true Teutonic form, are blood and guts references to his personal history and the stigma of Germany’s recent social history. They may not yell their message the way Beuys’ German Expressionist relatives do, but they persistently address cycles of Angst and recovery with the steady, passionate drone of a gospel song.
The suit tacked up like awkward armor refers to the felt that a near dead Beuys was wrapped in when he was downed in Russia as a young German fighter pilot in World War II. Known for his workman’s clothes, the uncharacteristic suit dredges up not just a personal trauma but also the way we “tailor” our art personalities and art objects. (Beuys had no problem signing his famous name to all manner of banal junk; autographed 10 cent postcards and a can of Italian olive oil are shown here).
Most works hover around the issue of Germany’s past and present identity, as well as reconciling Beuys’ own roles as universal soldier, art guru-in-spite-of-himself, political activist, performer and educator. As this little show makes clear, the same man that made a believable ritual of arranging globs of fat on a wall also made visually pristine drawings and sculpture.
Another sure bet is large black and white photographs of nature (some abutted to monochromatic acrylic canvases like the fine “White Rose”) by conceptual photographer John Divola. Divola shoots nature out of context--water beads on a black ground become comets in infinite space--or he photographs small constructed papier-mache sets, like a series of flint shaped wedges balanced on their apex to stand for “Cyclones.” The works are technically exact and conceptually complex. Printed beautifully on linen, viewers are invited to notice strings that hold together the concocted dioramas. Clearly, that nebulous relationship of a fiction standing in for the real thing--the backbone of art--continues to intrigue Divola. (Richard Green Gallery, 834 N. La Brea Ave., to Feb 4.)